Robbery is an extremely serious theft offense that will always be filed by the prosecutor as a felony (Penal Code section 211). The elements to prove a robbery require that the:
- defendant took property
- the property was in possession of another person
- the property was taken from the person or his/her immediate presence
- the taking was against the person’s will
- using force or fear
The minimum consequences for a robbery conviction (2nd degree) will include either probation and up to one year of custody in the county jail. If probation is denied, then the sentencing range will involve 2 years, 3 years, or 5 years of custody in state prison. Additionally, the penalties will be increased for robberies:
- where victim is driver or passenger of a vehicle for hire (bus, taxi, Uber/Lyft, train, etc.)
- taking place in inhabited house, boat or trailer/motorhome
- taking place while victim is using ATM, or just used ATM
In these categories of (1st degree) robbery, the state prison sentence will range from 3 years, 4 years or 6 years.
There are also further enhanced forms of punishment where there are multiple victims, multiple defendants committing the robbery and/or causing actual injury to the victim (Penal Code section 12022.7) or using a weapon or gun (Penal Code section 12022.53). In any of these “enhanced” scenarios, the prison time will be calculated “in addition” to a 1st or 2nd robbery conviction.
Additionally, a conviction of a robbery offense will impose very severe immigration consequences on anyone who is undocumented, seeking naturalization, travelling on a work/travel visa, etc. Given that a robbery conviction will be treated as a “crime involving moral turpitude” and as a violent offense (“aggravated felony”), certain defendants may be deported or excluded from the country by the immigration authorities.
For these and many other reasons, it is imperative that a defendant speak to a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to discuss and evaluate a defense that may apply, or a strategy to mitigate potential punishment. From a “defense” point of view, there are countless reasons why any element to prove a robbery is lacking in substance. Perhaps the client:
- honestly believed he was taking back property that belonged to him
- took the property from the victim without the victim even being aware of it
- was a friend of defendant and was present during the robbery, but took no part in robbery?
- was mis-identified by the victim (didn’t get a “good look”, people wearing similar clothes)
Alternatively, there may be unique circumstances that an attorney may present to the prosecutor on behalf of his/her client that may warrant a lesser charge or at least, lesser punishment. For example, the client:
- is very young with no criminal history
- knew what the primary defendant was going to do, but was “passively” involved
- is homeless and suffers from a mental health issue
- expressed no threat of force, and the victim admits he/she felt no real fear of defendant
- used force to get away or flee from security guard, without hurting the guard (“Estes robbery”)
While none of the above scenarios will absolve a client from criminal responsibility for a robbery, they may provide a sufficient basis, coupled with other personal issues related to the client (evidence of other aspects of good character, remorse/contrite, solid family support, counselling, etc.), enabling the attorney to pursue a reasonable and manageable outcome.
Practical Note: There is a form of theft known as “grand theft person” (Penal Code section 487(c)) that depending on circumstances, may be alleged in lieu of robbery. This alternative offense exposes a client to significantly less jail time and it can even be charged (or, client can “earn”) as a misdemeanor.