11 Things You Didn’t Know About Robbery Laws

California Penal Code Section 211

Definition of Robbery Under Penal Code 211

California Penal Code 211 is defined as taking property that is not yours from another person’s possession and immediate presence.  To be considered a robbery, the property had to have been taken against that person’s will while the defendant used force or fear to take the property or to prevent the person from resisting.

The intent to take the property must have been formed before or during the time he/she used force or fear.  If the defendant did not form this required intent until after using the force or fear, then he/she did not commit robbery.1

Example

Sam held up a cashier at a liquor store at gun point and ordered the cashier to place all the cash into the bag he provided.  Sam can be guilty of a robbery because he forced the cashier, by threatening him with a gun, to give him the money.

How Does The Prosecutor Prove Robbery?

To prove someone is guilty of robbery under Penal Code 211, the prosecution must prove the following facts or elements:2

  • The defendant took3; property4 that was not his/her own;
  • The property was taken from another person’s possession5 and immediate presence6;
  • The property was taken against that person’s will7
  • The defendant used force or fear to take the property or to prevent the person from resisting;

And

  • When the defendant used force or fear8 to take the property, he/she intended to deprive the owner of it permanently or to remove it from the owner’s possession for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property. 9
Possession
Example

Barry lost his job a year ago and decided to rob a bank because he ran out of resources.  He bought a semi-automatic gun and a mask.  On the day of the robbery, went down to the bank, put a gun to a teller’s head and threatened to shoot the teller’s brains out if she failed to give him all the money and did not refrain from pushing the emergency button.  Barry is guilty of the robbery because he used the gun as a force and fear to scare the teller into believing that he will actually shoot her if she did not turn over the money.

Who Can Be Charged With Robbery?

To be charged with robbery, the defendant must have used force or fear to take the property of another.  Moreover, Someone can only be charged with robbery if he/she was either caught or has reached a place of safety during the commission of the robbery, because only then is the offense of robbery is said to be “complete.”

For a robbery to take place, there had to have been a “felonious taking.”  To constitute a “taking,” the property need only be moved a small distance. 10  It does not have to be under the robber’s actual physical control.  If a person acting under the robber’s direction, including the victim, moves the property, the element of taking is satisfied.

How Can My Attorney Fight Robbery Charges?

There are various defenses that can be asserted on your behalf to fight a California robbery charge. Here are the most common ones:

Claim Of Right

If a person honestly believes that he or she has a right to the property even if that belief is mistaken or unreasonable, such belief is a defense to robbery.11  This defense is only available for robberies when a specific piece of property is reclaimed; it is not a defense to robberies perpetrated to settle a debt, liquidated or unliquidated.12

Example:

A man honestly believed that the bicycle parked in his neighbor’s backyard belonged to him.  Trying to reclaim what he thought was rightfully his, the man climbed the fence and went onto the neighbor’s property.   When the man’s neighbor spotted him, he came out and told the man that the bicycle was a gift from his grandfather.  Not believing the neighbor, the man took the bicycle and told the neighbor that if he tries to take the bicycle, he will be forced to hurt him.  In this case, because the man honestly believed that he was reclaiming his own property, he will not be guilty of robbery.

Lack Of Intent To Take The Property

If the defendant did not intend to take or keep the property, but only did so as a result of using force or fear for another purpose, the defendant will not be guilty of robbery.

Example:

While a man was defending himself in a fist fight that resulted at a bar, he grabbed the first aggressor’s knife out of his front pocket and ran away with it so the other man will not stab him.  Even though the man took the aggressor’s knife, he only did so to defend himself from serious physical injury.  Therefore, he will not be guilty of robbery.

Lack Of Force Or Fear

If the defendant does not use force or fear to take away the property from another person, the defendant cannot be charged with this offense.  The force required for robbery must be more than the incidental touching necessary to take the property.

Example:

The force employed by pickpocket is insufficient.  Whereas administering an intoxicating substance or poison to the victim to take property constitutes force.13

Falsely Accused/Mistaken Identity

If you were falsely accused of committing a robbery, you need a good attorney who can find any inconsistencies in the evidence to show that you were not the perpetrator of the crime.

Penalties, Punishment And Sentencing Guidelines For First Degree Robbery

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Robbery is a felony for which a defendant can face different punishment, depending on whether the defendant is charged with first degree or second degree robbery. 14 

First Degree Robbery

The first degree robbery is a robbery that took place in any of the following locations: in an inhabited dwelling, vessel, floating home, trailer coach, or part of a building.  Or the robbery was committed while the person robbed was using or had just used an ATM machine and was still near the machine.  If the defendant is found guilty of the

Jail Time:  First degree robbery, he/she can face imprisonment for three, six, or nine years in the state prison.

What Are The Penalties, Punishment And Sentencing Guidelines For Second Degree Robbery?

All the other types of robberies that are no classified as first degree robberies are classified as second degree robberies. Penalties can result in imprisonment of up to two, three or five years in state prison.

Statistics

According to the 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Reports on Robbery in the U.S.

FBI Statistics on Robbery
  • 2.1% of robberies happen at banks.
  • 2.3% of robberies occur at gas stations.
  • 17.3% of robberies happen in a  residence.
  • 5.2% of robberies take place at convenience stores.
  • 43.2% of robberies take place on streets and highways.
  • 13.2% of robberies occur at commercial housing complexes (apartments/condos).
  • Approximately 16.6% of robberies transpire in locations other than those listed above!

Image Credit To FBI

Related Offenses

Attempted Robbery:  Even if your conduct did not amount to a completed robbery, you could still be charged with attempted robbery if you had specific intent to rob another person.15

Grand Theft: Grand Theft under Pen. Code §484 involves the taking away of another person’s personal property16.

Grand Theft Automobile:  Grand Theft Automobile under Pen. Code, § 487(d) involves the taking away of another person’s automobile.17

California Laws for Petty Theft under Pen. Code, sections 484, 488 involve the taking away of the property of another valued less than $250.18

Petty Theft With PriorPetty Theft With Prior under Penal Code 666 involves a situation where a defendant is a repeat offender who has been convicted three or more times of petty theft, among other theft crimes.19

Related Articles

Choosing An Attorney To Represent You In Your Robbery Case

The attorney you hire to represent you in your case can make all the difference in your outcome. A conviction for robbery can result in very extreme consequences such as prison time and a strike within the meaning of the three strikes law.  If you have previously been convicted of a violent felony and have a strike against you, a second strike could double your sentence. Don’t let that happen, contact our office for a free confidential consultation to discuss your case at (818) 351-9555.

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Footnotes

  1. Penal Code 211 – Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear. []
  2. California Penal Code 211 []
  3. A person takes something when he or she gains possession of it and moves it some distance.  The distance moved may be short. []
  4. The property taken can be of any value, however slight.  Two or more people may possess something at the same time. []
  5. A person does not have to actually hold or touch something to possess it.  It is enough if the person has control over it or the right to control it, either personally or through another person.  Possession Defined.  People v. Bekele (1995) 33 Cal.App.4th 1457, 1461 [39 Cal.Rptr.2d 797], disapproved on other grounds in People v. Rodriguez (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1, 13–14 [82 Cal.Rptr.2d 413, 971 P.2d 618]. []
  6. Property is within a person’s “immediate presence” if it is sufficiently within his or her physical control that he or she could keep possession of it if not prevented by force or fear.  Immediate Presence Defined. People v. Hayes (1990) 52 Cal.3d 577, 626–627 [276 Cal.Rptr. 874, 802 P.2d 376] []
  7. An act is done against a person’s will if that person does not consent to the act.  In order to consent, a person must act freely and voluntarily and know the nature of the act. []
  8. “Fear,” as used here, means fear of injury to the person himself or herself, or injury to the person’s family or property, or immediate injury to someone else present during the incident or to that person’s property.  Fear Defined. Pen. Code, § ; see People v. Cuevas (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 689, 698 [107 Cal.Rptr.2d 529] [victim must actually be afraid]. []
  9. The defendant’s intent to take the property must have been formed before or during the time he/she used force or fear.  If the defendant did not form this required intent until after using the force or fear, then he/she did not commit robbery.  Intent.  People v. Green (1980) 27 Cal.3d 1, 52–53 [164 Cal.Rptr. 1, 609 P.2d 468], overruled on other grounds in People v. Hall (1986) 41 Cal.3d 826, 834, fn. 3 [226 Cal.Rptr. 112, 718 P.2d 99]; see Rodriguez v. Superior Court (1984) 159 Cal.App.3d 821, 826 [205 Cal.Rptr. 750] [same intent as theft].  Intent to Deprive Owner of Main Value.  See People v. Avery (2002) 27 Cal.4th 49, 57–58 [115 Cal.Rptr.2d 403, 38 P.3d 1] [in context of theft]; People v. Zangari (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 1436, 1447 [108 Cal.Rptr.2d 250] [same]. []
  10. People v. Martinez (1969) 274 Cal.App.2d 170, 174 [79 Cal.Rptr. 18]; People v. Price (1972) 25 Cal.App.3d 576, 578 [102 Cal.Rptr. 71]. []
  11. People v. Butler (1967) 65 Cal.2d 569, 573 [55 Cal.Rptr. 511, 421 P.2d 703]; People v. Romo (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 514, 518 [269 Cal.Rptr. 440] [discussing defense in context of theft]; see CALCRIM No. 1863, Defense to Theft or Robbery: Claim of Right. []
  12. People v. Tufunga (1999) 21 Cal.4th 935, 945–950 [90 Cal.Rptr.2d 143, 987 P.2d 168]. []
  13. People v. Garcia (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1242, 1246 [53 Cal.Rptr.2d 256]; (People v. Dreas (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 623, 628–629 [200 Cal.Rptr. 586]; see also People v. Wright (1996) 52 Cal.App.4th 203, 209–210 [59 Cal.Rptr.2d 316] [explaining force for purposes of robbery and contrasting it with force required for assault]. []
  14. Penal Code 211 []
  15. Pen. Code, §§ 664, 211; People v. Webster (1991) 54 Cal.3d 411, 443 [285 Cal.Rptr. 31, 814 P.2d 1273]. []
  16. Pen. Code, §§ 484, 487g; People v. Webster, supra, at p. 443; People v. Ortega (1998) 19 Cal.4th 686, 694, 699 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 489, 968 P.2d 48]; see People v. Cooksey (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 1407, 1411–1413 [116 Cal.Rptr.2d 1] [insufficient evidence to require instruction]. []
  17. People v. Gamble (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 446, 450 [27 Cal.Rptr.2d 451] [construing former Pen. Code, § 487h]; People v. Escobar (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 477, 482 [53 Cal.Rptr.2d 9] [same]. []
  18. People v. Covington (1934) 1 Cal.2d 316, 320 [34 P.2d 1019]. []
  19. People v. Villa (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th 1429, 1433–1434 [69 Cal.Rptr.3d 282]. []