The California Penal Code section 211 outlines the crime of robbery. This statute defines robbery as the felonious taking of another person's property, from their person, against their will. For robbery charges to apply, taking another person's property must have been accomplished through force or fear. Robbery is a felony offense under California law, whose consequences can be detrimental if convicted of the charge. Therefore, it is advisable to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately after arrest or after learning that you are being investigated for a robbery crime. For reliable legal representation in Pasadena, CA, call attorney Ann Gottesman. She is an experienced and caring defense lawyer who is dedicated to helping her clients achieve the best possible results in their criminal case.
Elements Of The Crime
The legal definition of robbery under California law revolves around its elements. Elements refer to the factors that the prosecutor must prove before an accused can be found guilty of robbery at a jury or court trial. The following are elements of the crime of robbery under PC 211:
- You took property that did not belong to you
- Another person was in possession of the property
- You took the said property from the immediate presence of the other person
- You took the property against the person’s consent or will
- When you took the property, you used force or fear to prevent the other person from resisting
- When you used force or fear to take property from another person, you intended to deprive the person of the property permanently or temporarily.
Taking Property From Someone Else
Under PC 211, taking property from another person means that you took the property from the person's possession. It also means that you moved the property for a distance, even if it was only a short distance. For example, you may notice someone walking down a street with a high-quality handbag. You grab the bag from the person and start running. However, you soon realize that the bag is fake, and you drop it. However, you could still face robbery charges even if you did not keep the bag. This is because you took the bag from the victim's immediate presence, and you moved it even if it was only for a short distance.
When An Item Is In Possession Of Another Person
For an item to be in possession of another person, it does not mean that the person is touching or holding the object. The law considers a person to be in possession of an item or a property as long as they have control over it, usually known as constructive possession. The person from whom you take the property does not have to be the property owner. The law only requires the victim to have actual or constructive possession of a property. For example, a store worker is in possession of the items in a store even though they aren’t the actual owner of the store.
Taking Property From The Victim’s Person Or Immediate Presence
You can only face robbery charges under PC 211 if you take property from the victim’s person or immediate presence. The law considers a property to be within a person's immediate presence if the property is within the person's physical reach. This means that if the robbery had not occurred, the person would have been able to keep the property.
Taking Property Against A Person’s Will
If a person does not consent to you taking their property, California law considers you to have taken the property against the person's will. If you claim that you had the property owner's consent, it should be evident that the victim gave the permission freely. Consent must be given freely by a person who understands what they are doing and the consequences of their actions. You do not have the victim's permission if you threaten them with a firearm or other weapon and they run away, leaving the property behind. Even if the victim did not know that you would take their property if they fled and left it behind, you would still face robbery charges.
Using Fear Or Force
The fact that often distinguishes robbery from other California theft crimes is the use of fear or force. For PC 211, force means physical force. Fear means that you made the victim suffer reasonable fear of:
- The injury you would inflict on them
- The harm you would impose on the victim's family member
- The damage you would cause on the victim’s property
- The injuries you would impose on any other person present during the robbery incident
California law outlines that fear or force is present if a defendant drugs a victim and takes their property. However, slight and harmless touching that occurs when a pickpocket takes an item from another person does not qualify as the use of fear or force. Therefore, if a pickpocket touches a victim when taking something from them, they will not face robbery charges but could face other theft charges.
Intending To Deprive A Person Of Their Property
Robbery is a specific intent crime, meaning that you must have had a particular intent when you took property from the victim. A prosecutor must prove that you intended to deprive the victim of their property when the robbery occurred. You may have intended to deprive a victim of their property if:
- The owner would be deprived of a significant portion of the property permanently or for a long enough period.
The Penalties Of Robbery Under California Law
The penalties for robbery under PC 211 will vary depending on whether you commit a first-degree or a second-degree robbery. You will face first-degree robbery charges if any of the following factors are true:
- The robbery victim is an occupant or a driver of a bus, cable car, taxi, trackless subway trolley, streetcar, or any other form of transportation for hire
- You commit the robbery on an inhabited/occupied house, trailer, or boat
- You execute the crime immediately after the victim uses an ATM
An inhabited/occupied house or structure means that a person lives therein. The person may be present at the time of the robbery or absent but intends to come back. First-degree robbery is a felony offense under California law. The potential consequences for a first-degree robbery are:
- Formal or felony probation
- Imprisonment in a California state prison for three, four, or six years
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
The imprisonment for a first-degree robbery may increase to three, six, or nine years if you commit the crime in an inhabited/occupied house in concert with two or more individuals. Any other form of robbery that does not qualify as a first-degree robbery is a second-degree robbery. A second-degree robbery under California law is punishable by:
- Felony probation, also known as formal probation
- A state prison imprisonment for two, three, or five years
- A fine of not more than $10,000
You may face several robbery counts, depending on the victims involved. Robbery counts do not depend on the items you steal but the victims involved. For example, you will face two robbery counts if you steal wallets from two people using fear or force. However, if you steal multiple items from one victim, you will only face one count of robbery.
Sentence Enhancements For Robbery Offenses
Specific sentence enhancements may exist for robbery offenses depending on the facts of a crime. For example, you will face an enhanced penalty under PC 12022.7 if you cause another person to suffer significant bodily injury as you commit a robbery offense. Significant bodily harm means that a victim sustained a substantial physical injury. The sentence enhancement for significant bodily injury will lead to additional imprisonment for three to six years. In addition, if you use a gun while committing a robbery crime, you will face a penalty enhancement under the 10-20-life use of a gun, and you are done rule. This enhancement results in more extended imprisonment for anyone who uses a firearm while committing robbery:
- If you use a firearm while committing robbery, you will face an additional ten years of imprisonment.
- If you personally and intentionally use and fire a gun as you commit robbery, you will face an additional 20 years of imprisonment.
- You will face an additional 25 years or life imprisonment if you use a firearm while committing robbery and you inflict significant bodily injury on another person.
A Strike On Your Record According To California’s Three Strikes Rule
The crime of robbery under PC 211 is a violent felony. Therefore, it is a strike offense under the California Three Strikes Law. If you have a robbery conviction on your record and you commit an additional felony, you will become a second striker. As a second striker, you are entitled to twice the standard sentence applicable for a felony offense. You will receive a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment if you accumulate three strikes offenses on your record. You require a solid defense to help you fight a robbery charge.
Common Legal Defense For Fighting A Robbery Charge
There are several legal defenses that you can use to fight a robbery charge. Therefore, you should not give up if the prosecutor accuses you of this offense. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can have your robbery charges reduced or dismissed during the pretrial process. Below are some of the defenses that you can use to fight a robbery charge:
You Did Not Use Fear Or Force While Acquiring The Property
A critical element that distinguishes robbery from other theft crimes is the use of fear or force while committing the offense. Robbery charges will not apply if the prosecutor cannot prove that you used fear or force while committing the crime. You may still face charges for another theft crime, which will probably have lower charges than a robbery offense. For example, a person may have been intimidated enough, making them take off or hand over their property to you without using fear or force. In this case, you can fight robbery charges by stating that you did not use fear or force while taking property from the victim.
You Thought or Believed That You Had A Right To The Property
You can also fight robbery charges successfully by pointing out that you honestly thought or believed that you had a right to the property. For instance, you can state that you had an honest belief that the property you took belonged to you. In this case, usually known as a claim of right defense, the law can relieve you of the robbery charges. The claim of right defense may apply even though your belief that you had a right to the property was unreasonable or mistaken. However, this defense cannot apply if you execute a robbery crime to settle a debt.
Most robbery perpetrators are charged after victims identify them in a pretrial lineup. This process of identifying defendants often leads to many false accusations and mistakes. When committing robbery offenses, many defendants often wear masks or other forms of disguise. This means that a victim identifies a defendant mainly based on their weight or height, clothes, and other unreliable pieces of evidence. This often results in many cases of mistaken identity.
Your criminal attorney will evaluate the prosecutor’s case and determine whether it is based on circumstantial evidence. Your attorney can fight robbery charges by pointing out weaknesses in the prosecutor's evidence. The judge should acquit a defendant of a crime unless they are 100% sure they have the right person or perpetrator.
Every year, thousands of people are falsely accused of robbery and other criminal offenses in California. A person may falsely accuse you of this crime for several reasons. For example, the actual perpetrator may accuse you of the crime in an attempt to cover up their guilt. In addition, a jealous ex-spouse trying to seek revenge against you may falsely accuse you of robbery. Your criminal defense attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to determine what happened. If your attorney manages to prove that you did not commit the robbery offense, you could have your charges dismissed on the grounds of false accusation.
Offenses Related To Robbery
Robbery is closely related to other criminal offenses. These offenses are often charged alongside or instead of robbery. The related crimes are:
Carjacking — PC 215
The California PC 215 outlines the crime of carjacking. This offense involves taking a motor vehicle from another person through instilling fear or using force. The use of fear or force means the infliction of physical force on a victim or infliction of fear of imminent harm. It does not matter whether you took a vehicle from a driver or a passenger. Even if the person from whom you took a car is not its actual owner, you will still face carjacking charges. The prosecutor must prove the following elements to accuse you of carjacking under PC 215:
- Another person was in possession of a car.
- You took the vehicle from the person’s immediate presence
- You did not have the person’s consent to take the vehicle
- When you took the car, you had an intent to deprive the vehicle owner of the car permanently or temporarily
Like a robbery offense, carjacking is a felony. The potential penalties for the crime include:
- Formal or felony probation and jail time not exceeding one year in a county jail
- Imprisonment in a California state prison for three, five, or nine years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
You will face distinct penalties for every victim present in the vehicle at the time of the carjacking. Several sentence enhancements are available for a carjacking conviction. Just like their name suggests, the enhancements will increase your sentence. The typical sentence enhancements are:
- Great bodily injury enhancement
- Criminal street gang enhancement
- 10-20-life use a gun, and you are done law
- Three strikes law
- Felony murder rule
The crime of carjacking is an aggravated felony, meaning that it will have negative immigration consequences. A carjacking conviction could lead to deportation or being marked inadmissible into the United States if you are a legal immigrant or alien. You can use the following defenses to fight a carjacking charge:
- You did not use fear or force while taking the vehicle
- You had the victims consent to take the vehicle
- You are a victim of mistaken identity
- The claim of right defense
Grand Theft Or Petty Theft
You may face charges under California PC 487-grand theft or California PC 488-petty theft if you take another person's property without their permission. If you take property worth higher than $950, you will face grand theft charges. If you take property worth less than $950, you will face petty theft charges. Grand theft charges apply when the value of the property taken is $950 or more and if you steal a car or a firearm directly from the victim's person. All other cases of theft that do not qualify as grand theft are petty theft.
In cases involving shoplifting and pickpocketing, the perpetrators will face petty theft or grand theft charges and not robbery. Petty theft is a misdemeanor offense under California law, while grand theft is a wobbler. This means that the prosecutor may charge a grand theft crime as a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a felony, grand theft penalties include imprisonment for sixteen months, two years, or three years. This sentencing is much lower than that of a robbery conviction. With the help of their criminal defense attorneys, many robbery defendants strive to have their robbery charges reduced to grand theft or petty theft.
Kidnapping — PC 207
The California PC 207 outlines the crime of kidnapping. You may face kidnapping charges if you move another person for a substantial distance without the person’s consent by using fear or force. In addition, depending on your case's circumstances, you may face aggravated kidnapping charges if you move another person without their permission using fear, intimidation, or fraud and:
- You hold the person for ransom.
- The person is a child below 14 years.
- The victim suffers significant bodily injury or death due to your actions
- You kidnap a victim during a carjacking
A kidnapping offense is a continuing offense because it continues as long as you hold or detain the victim. Even if you move the victim to several places, the prosecutor can only charge you with one count of kidnapping. The consequences of kidnaping will vary depending on whether the prosecutor charges you with simple or aggravated kidnapping.
Simple kidnapping is a felony offense that is punishable by:
- Imprisonment of three, five, or eight years in a state prison in California
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000
An aggravated kidnapping offense is punishable by:
- Imprisonment in state prison for five, eight, or eleven years if the kidnapping victim is below 14 years when you commit the offense
- Life imprisonment in state prison without a possibility of parole if you kidnap a victim and request for ransom, reward, you commit blackmail, robbery, or certain California sex crimes
- Life imprisonment in state prison without a possibility of parole if you kidnap a victim for a reward, ransom, or to commit extortion, making them suffer significant bodily injury or placing them in a condition that could lead to death
You can use the following defenses to fight kidnapping charges:
- The alleged victim agreed or consented to be moved
- There was no sufficient movement to qualify the offense as kidnapping
- You were not the actual kidnapper, but you were merely present
- A false accusation or insufficient evidence
- You are a parent, and you have a right to travel with your children
- Statutory exception
Other Related Crimes
Other crimes closely related to the crime of robbery include:
- Extortion under the California PC 518 — you may face charges under PC 518 if you use threats or force to make another person give you their money or property.
- Burglary under PC 459 — you may face burglary charges under PC 459 if you enter a building, a room, or a locked vehicle with an intent to commit a felony once inside.
Find A Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Robbery is a serious crime under California law whose penalties are often devastating. If the prosecutor accuses you of robbery, it is advisable to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. At The Law Office of Ann Gottesman, Ann has personally helped many people accused of robbery charges in Pasadena, California and the surrounding Los Angeles area. Ann is always happy to provide people with a free consultation. Contact Ann at 626-710-4021 and speak to her directly.