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Learn about robbery and how it differs from theft and burglary
The crime of robbery occurs when the offender uses violence or threats of physical harm to take property from the victim. Read on to learn more about robbery and how robbery differs from theft and burglary. This article also provides examples of robbery cases and a sample criminal statute on robbery.
What Is Robbery?
Robbery is a crime that involves both theft and violence -- or at least the threat of violence. Unlike burglary, which usually occurs outside the victim's presence or awareness, robbery involves the offender's immediate use of force or fear to take personal property directly from the victim. (To learn more about burglary, see Nolo's article Burglary Basics.) A classic example of robbery involves the holdup of a convenience store. A robber pulls a gun (thus using force or fear, even if the gun is unloaded or is actually just a toy gun) and demands money from the clerk. Purse-snatching can also constitute robbery if the victim is confronted by the robber.
Criminal statutes that cover robbery often define the crime differently (first degree, second degree) depending on the seriousness of the offense and other circumstances. In some states, first degree robbery consists of a robbery committed inside a residence or against certain classes of people -- such as taxicab drivers or passengers. Robberies where no deadly weapon is wielded (i.e. a gun or knife) might be considered second degree robberies. And when a dangerous or deadly weapon is used to carry out a robbery, some states' laws carry a separate "armed robbery" classification which comes with harsher punishment.
Robbery: Case Examples
Example 1. Opper Tunist comes upon a person who is lying on the pavement, apparently passed out from the effects of alcohol. Seeing no one else around, Opper removes the wallet from the sleeper's pocket and runs away. So has Opper committed a robbery? The answer is no, since Opper didn't use means of force or fear. Opper did, however, commit the crime of theft -- by taking the sleeper's property without permission.
Example 2. Cal Lechter accosts Cora Spondent outside a baseball card show, believing that Cora just bought the Puddinhead Jones card that Lechter wants for his collection. Lechter points a gun at Cora and says, "Give me the cards you just bought." Cora complies. Lechter flips through the cards, then asks, "Where's the Puddinhead Jones card?" Cora replies, "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have it." Lechter then throws the cards to the ground in disgust and runs off. Lechter did not actually take any of Cora's cards, but could Lechter still be convicted of robbery? Probably. Lechter took property (Cora's cards) using force or fear, and the circumstances suggest that at the time Lechter took the cards, he intended to permanently deprive Cora of the Puddinhead Jones card, had Cora purchased it.
Robbery: Proving the Intent Requirement
Robbery is a type of theft crime, and as is often true with theft crimes, the government has to prove that a robber took property with the intent to forever deprive the victim of the stolen property. Learn more about theft in Nolo's article Theft and Shoplifting Crimes.
A prosecutor typically relies on circumstantial evidence to prove intent in robbery cases, rather than trying to prove intent directly. In other words, a prosecutor asks a judge or jury to use common sense to infer a thief's intent from the circumstances under which the property was stolen.
To learn more about robbery and theft laws, see Crimes Against Property: Taking What Isn't Yours.
Punishment for Robbery
The elements of physical force and fear mean robbery is considered a serious crime (even when compared with other theft offenses), making it a felony in all jurisdictions, punishable by more than one year in prison. Usually, sentences handed down after a robbery conviction end up being much longer than one year, especially in cases involving armed robbery or robberies where a victim suffered harm or injury. To learn more about punishments and sentences in criminal cases, check out Nolo's <a href=">How Criminal Sentencing Works FAQ.
Robbery: State Law Example
To better understand how robbery is defined, and to see examples of first degree and second degree robbery, check out this excerpt from the Florida Statutes (Section 812.13) on robbery:
(1) "Robbery" means the taking of money or other property which may be the subject of larceny from the person or custody of another, with intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person or the owner of the money or other property, when in the course of the taking there is the use of force, violence, assault, or putting in fear.
(2)(a) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried a firearm or other deadly weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment or as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(b) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried a weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(c) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried no firearm, deadly weapon, or other weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(3)(a) An act shall be deemed "in the course of committing the robbery" if it occurs in an attempt to commit robbery or in flight after the attempt or commission.
(b) An act shall be deemed "in the course of the taking" if it occurs either prior to, contemporaneous with, or subsequent to the taking of the property and if it and the act of taking constitute a continuous series of acts or events.
Learn More and Get Help
For everything you've ever wanted to know about the criminal justice system -- from searches to sentencing -- get The Criminal Law Handbook by Paul Bergman and Sara Berman (Nolo). And if you need more personal help after an arrest or other run-in with the criminal justice system, use Nolo's trusted Lawyer Directory to find an experienced criminal law attorney near you.
by: Sara J. Berman