Robbery is a felony in California and it is defined in section 212 of California’s Penal Code (“PC 212”). It is a type of theft crime that also involves some force or threat to the victim.
How the Prosecution Proves that Someone Committed Robbery in California
Robbery in California combines a theft with some elements of assault, battery, or threats to the victim. Generally speaking, a robbery is like a theft that the defendant accomplishes with some type of physical force or by threatening the victim with physical force. To convict someone of robbery in California at a jury trial, the prosecution must prove to the jury , beyond a reasonable doubt, that
- The defendant took property from the victim OR from the victim’s “immediate presence”,
- That the defendant took the victim’s property against their will,
- That the defendant used force or fear against the victim in order to take the property, AND
- That the defendant specifically intended to permanently deprive the victim of the property.
Perhaps the most obvious example of a robbery is where the Prosecutor proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant pointed a gun at the victim, said “your money or your life”, the victim then gave the defendant his money, and the defendant then ran off with the money, never intending to return it. However, not all cases are the same and so some additional explanation might be needed.
For example, a defendant does not have to take the victim’s property off of his physical person, nor does the victim need to give his property over in response to the defendant’s threat. A defendant who walks into a store or a restaurant, points a gun at the staff and commands them to “freeze”, and then steals money out of the safes or registers might be guilty of robbery if the jury finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the money was in the “immediate presence” of the staff. A more elaborate plan by the defendant, where he forces the victim to remain somewhere so that he can then go and take the victim’s property from someplace far away, is probably not taking anything from the victim’s “immediate presence” and therefore probably did not commit robbery (although some other crimes might be chargeable).
The defendant also has to use force or fear in order to take the property from the victim. A person who merely takes away someone else’s things without permission might be a thief, but they are not a robber unless they also use force or fear to take the property. To prove this element, the prosecution can use evidence that the defendant used some kind of physical force, or threatened the victim with harm, to take the victim’s property away. Even if the defendant never actually intended to harm the victim, simply threatening the victim in order to take his property away is enough to fulfill this element. A defendant who points a toy gun on someone probably cannot seriously hurt the victim if he tried, but using it to threaten the victim and trick them into thinking that it is real, and telling the victim that they will be shot if they do not surrender their property, is probably guilty of robbery. The same is probably true for a defendant who places a hand underneath clothing and points it at the victim to give the impression that they are armed.
The prosecution also has to prove that the defendant “specifically intended to permanently deprive the victim of his property.” A person acts with “specific intent” when they deliberately try for a specific result to occur. While nobody can read anybody’s mind to “know for sure” what anyone else intended to do in the past, the prosecution can use circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s state of mind and courts will encourage jurors to “use common sense” when determining what, if anything, a defendant intended to do. For the purposes of a robbery charge, the prosecution has to show that the defendant intended to permanently deprive the victim of their property.
First and Second Degree Robbery
California recognizes two different types of robbery, generally: robbery of the first degree and robbery of the second degree. First degree robbery is considered more serious than second degree robbery. PC 212(a) and PC 212(b) define first degree robbery. A robbery committed against public transit operators, taxi drivers, any of their passengers, or a robbery committed in a home or residence count as first degree robbery. Also, a robbery committed against someone using an ATM, or in the vicinity of an ATM that they have just used. The prosecution must still prove all of the other elements of robbery mentioned above. All other robberies, under PC 212(c), count as robbery of the second degree.
Defenses to Robbery in California
It is important that the defense know whether the right degree of robbery has been charged. When the defendant has been charged with the more serious form of robbery in the first degree, defense counsel should review the discovery and witness testimony carefully to determine whether this higher charging is really appropriate, and whether any robbery charges lodged against the defendant should be reduced to second degree robbery.
Another defense to robbery is consent. As mentioned above, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant took the victim’s property away without the victim’s consent. However, if the victim only “agrees” to give up their things because the defendant is forcing or threatening them, then the prosecution can probably show that the victim never actually “consented” to giving his things away to the victim.
A lack of force or fear can also be a defense to robbery. The defendant actually has to use force or fear to take the victim’s property away. Taking away the victim’s, and then using force or fear on him later on, might not be indicative of a robbery. The defense should explore any kind of force or threats that the defendant allegedly used, and whether the prosecution can prove that the defendant used those force or threats to effectuate his stealing from the victim.
The defense can also respond to a robbery charge by showing that the defendant did not intend to permanently deprive the victim of his property. If the defendant takes the victim’s things from them by force but plans to return them soon after, then this should not be considered a robbery (although this type of behavior might be criminal for other reasons)
Sentencing, Punishment, and Possible Jail Time for Robbery In California
As mentioned above, Robbery is a felony in California which means that it is one of the more serious crimes that a person can be convicted of. Section 213 of the Penal code (“PC 213”) sets out the possible punishments for robbery.
First degree robbery is more serious than second degree robbery and so it is punished more harshly. A 1st degree robbery performed in concert with another person inside a residence or home is punishable by 3, 6, or 9 years imprisonment. All other first degree robberies are punishable by 3, 4, or 6 years of imprisonment, and second degree robbery is punishable by 2, 3, or 5 years of imprisonment.