Robbery is the unlawful taking of personal property in possession of another, from their immediate presence and against their will, accomplished through force or fear. The crime results in significant penalties upon conviction because of the risk posed to victims when perpetrators engage. There is a need for the right defense strategy to ensure you secure the best legal outcome. Thus, you need assistance from experienced Anaheim criminal defense attorneys, and the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to assist. 

Robbery Under California Law

We turn to Penal Code 211 to better understand robbery. Under the statute, you commit robbery when you unlawfully take another person’s property from their immediate presence and against their will, accomplished through force or fear.

There are two degrees of robbery. You can face charges for robbery in the first or second degree.

First-Degree Robbery

First-degree robbery is the more grave offense. You committed this type of theft when the victim of the crime was:

  • In the process of using or had just finished using an ATM or bank, or
  • A driver or passenger in a vehicle that was used for hire, for example, a taxi or rideshare vehicle, a subway, streetcar, or cable car.

Prosecutors will charge you with first-degree robbery if you commit the crime in an inhabited dwelling, for example, a home or apartment.

Second-Degree Robbery

Any robbery that fails to meet the conditions for first-degree robbery is classified as second-degree robbery. This includes robberies on the street, in a store, or elsewhere.

Examples of Actions that Would Result in Robbery Charges

  • Armed robbery — An individual employs a firearm or another weapon to seize cash or assets from a bank or store.
  • Home invasion robbery — A group of individuals invade a residential property and utilize force or intimidation to steal money, jewelry, and other precious belongings.
  • Robbery of an ATM — An individual uses force or fear to take money from someone using an ATM.
  • Robbery of a convenience store — An person enters a convenience store with a weapon and demands money from the clerk.
  • Bank robbery — An individual enters a bank with a weapon and demands money from the teller.
  • Street robbery — A person forcefully takes someone's purse, wallet, or other personal property while walking down the street.

Elements of the Crime

The state must prove specific elements of the crime for the jury to return a guilty verdict. Prosecutors must prove that:

  • You took personal property that was not your own.
  • The property was in possession of another person.
  • You took the property from the immediate presence of the victim.
  • You took the property against the victim’s will.
  • You took the property through fear or force.
  • When committing the crime, you intended to deprive the owner of the property's value, permanently or temporarily.

Let us look at each element in detail.

Taking Property

Taking property means physically obtaining possession or control of another person's property without their consent or against their will. This act entails confiscating property directly from the person or their proximity or presence, for example, a person seizing a wallet from another's pocket or snatching a purse from another person’s hand.

Note: You will satisfy this element even if you took the property over a short distance.

In the Possession of Another Individual

Property is said to be in the control of another individual" if the victim, that is, someone other than the property owner, has physical control or custody of the property. Possession can be either actual or constructive.

Actual possession means that the person physically has the property in their hands or on their person. For example, if you removed a cell phone from another person's pocket. In this situation, the victim had physical control of the phone.

Constructive possession denotes that the individual lacks actual physical control over the property. However, he/she has or can exercise control over it. For example, if someone hides a stolen item in their home, they have constructive possession.

For instance, an individual takes money from a cashier at a store. The cashier is in control of the funds. This is true even though the store owner owns the funds.

From the Victim’s Immediate Presence

"From the other individual or his/her immediate presence" refers to the location from which the property is taken during a robbery.

If the property is taken "from the other person," it means it is taken directly from the victim's body or person. For example, if a perpetrator snatches a necklace off a victim's neck, the property is taken "from the other person."

When a property is confiscated "from the immediate presence" of the victim, it implies that it is taken from a region that falls under the victim's authority or possession and is within their grasp. It encompasses items like a purse, wallet, or any other item the victim owns but not physically attached to their body. For example, if a perpetrator takes a wallet out of a victim's purse and places it next to them on a table, the property is taken "from the immediate presence" of the victim.

In robbery cases, taking property "from the other person or his/her immediate presence" is an essential element of the crime. It means that the property is taken with force or fear directly from the victim or an area within their control or possession, with the intent to permanently or substantially deprive them of the property.

Against the Asset-owner’s Will

When a property is taken "against the owner's will," it signifies that the owner did not approve or authorize the confiscation of their property. It implies that the property is seized without the owner's consent or agreement, hence against their will.

Taking property against the owner's will is a critical element of the crime. Offenders take the property using force, fear, or intimidation without the owner's consent and intend to permanently or substantially deprive them of it. Using force, fear, or coercion is critical in robbery cases because it demonstrates that the owner did not willingly relinquish their property. Further, it shows that the offender used coercive measures to take the property against the owner's will.

For example, if an individual threatens a victim with a weapon. He/she then demands that the victim hand over their wallet. The perpetrator takes the property against the victim's will. This is because the victim did not voluntarily give up their wallet. Instead, they gave up their wallets because they feared what would happen if they did not comply with the perpetrator's demands.

Use of Fear or Force

The use of fear means that you instilled fear in the victim to force them to comply with your demands. It encompasses various forms of intimidation, for example, threats of violence, harm, or any other act that instills fear in the victim, either for their safety or the safety of others.

Using force means you physically overpowered or subdued the victim to take the property. It can include acts of violence, for example, hitting, pushing, or restraining the victim so that you can take their property.

The use of fear or force is a crucial component of robbery. It demonstrates that the victim did not willingly give up their property. Instead, the victim was compelled to give up their property because of the offender’s actions.

Force means any amount of physical force used to take property from the victim. Force can be slight or significant. It can involve anything from pushing or shoving the victim to using weapons or causing injury. Slight or incidental touching is not enough to constitute using force in a robbery case.

Force does not require that the victim be injured or hurt in any way. It also does not require that the perpetrator use a weapon or any kind of physical object. Force can also be applied indirectly, for example, by using physical force against a device the victim is holding or wearing to take property from the victim.

For example: If a perpetrator grabs a purse from a victim's hands, the perpetrator is using force to take the property from the victim. Likewise, when a perpetrator shoves a victim to the ground and confiscates their wallet from their pocket, the perpetrator is utilizing force to seize the property.

Note: Using force in a robbery can elevate the crime from second-degree to first-degree robbery, which carries more severe penalties. Using a firearm or any other lethal weapon in the robbery will attract more severe charges and penalties.

Intent to Deprive

You must intend to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of their property. It means that you must aim to keep the property for yourself or dispose of it in a way that prevents the owner from recovering it.

The intent to deprive can be either permanent or temporary, as long as it intends to deny the owner their property rights for a significant time.

Example: If you intend to sell the stolen property, the intent to deprive the owner is considered permanent. If you intend to keep the stolen property for a limited period before returning or selling it, the intent to deprive is temporary.

The intent to deprive is a critical element. It distinguishes robbery from other crimes like theft or burglary. In a theft case, the perpetrator takes the property without the owner's permission, but they could lack the intent to deprive the owner of their property permanently or temporarily. In a burglary case, the perpetrator enters a building or structure intending to commit theft or another felony. However, the use of force or fear is not required. In contrast, robbery requires both the use of force or fear and the intent to deprive the owner of their property.

Defenses You Can Raise in a PC 211 Violation Case

You can fight robbery charges by using any of the following defenses:

  1. You Were Falsely Accused

You can be falsely accused for various reasons, including misunderstandings, mistaken identity, or deliberate attempts by your accuser to frame you. Your defense attorney could use any of the following strategies to fight the charge using this defense:

  • Alibi — Your attorney could attempt to establish that you were in a different location when the robbery occurred. Therefore could not have been the perpetrator.
  • Inconsistencies in the accuser's story — Your attorney could try to find inconsistencies in the accuser's narrative or testimony to show that they are not telling the truth.
  • Surveillance footage — Your attorney could try to obtain and present any available surveillance footage that could prove your innocence or cast doubt on the accuser's testimony.
  • Witnesses testimony — Your attorney could also locate witnesses who can testify that you were not at the crime scene. Alternatively, the witnesses can provide evidence that another person committed the robbery.
  1. Claim of Right

Under this defense, you will assert that you had a good faith belief that you had a right to the property you took. Thus, you did not intend to steal it. You must show that you genuinely believed that you had a right to the property. Further, it must be evident that your belief was reasonable under the circumstances. You must also show that you did not use force or fear to take the property and that you took it openly without trying to hide your actions.

Your attorney could present the following evidence in your defense:

  • Documentation — If you have any legal documents supporting your right claims, like a deed or a lease agreement, you should present them as evidence.
  • Prior history — If you have a record of dealing with the property or have previously made payments to the owner, you should present this evidence to support your claim of right.
  • Witnesses — If there were any witnesses to your actions or conversations with the property owner, you should ask them to testify on your behalf.

Note: Even if you establish a claim to the property, you could still be found guilty of other charges. These include trespassing or theft. The facts of the case are pivotal in determining the applicability of this defense.

  1. Lack of an Intent to Deprive the Owner of His/Her Property

It is up to the prosecution to prove that you intended to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of his/her property. Therefore, you can challenge the state’s assertions by demonstrating no such intent.

For example, if you believed you had the owner's permission to take the property or thought you were borrowing the property for a short period. You could argue that you did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of its use.

  1. You Had the Owner’s Consent

Consent can be a defense in other robbery cases, but only under limited circumstances. The critical factor is whether the property owner voluntarily and freely consented to the defendant taking it.

For instance, if the property owner allowed you to borrow or take it with their consent. However, you can argue that you did not commit robbery if the owner agreed to let you use the property under certain circumstances, for example, for a restricted period or a specific objective. However, you obtained the property by disregarding those terms. You can face robbery charges.

Note: Consent must be voluntary and freely given. It would not be a valid defense if you coerced, threatened, or forced the owner to consent. Additionally, if you obtained the owner's consent through fraud or misrepresentation, consent would not be a valid defense.

Penalties Upon a Conviction for Robbery

First-degree murder is a felony. Convictions result in the following penalties:

  • Three to five years of formal or felony probation instead of prison time.
  • 3, 4, or 6 years in prison and/or
  • A maximum fine of $10,000.

If you commit robbery in an inhabited structure with two or more individuals, your prison sentence could increase to 3, 6, or 9 years.

Second-degree robbery is also a felony. Convictions result in the following penalties:

  • Three to five years of formal or felony probation.
  • 2, 3, or 5 years in prison and/or
  • A maximum fine of $10,000.

Robbery of Multiple Victims

In robbery cases involving multiple victims, the number of victims is the primary focus, not the number of properties in the case. That is, you will face one count of robbery for a robbery involving one victim. Therefore, if you robbed two victims, you will face two counts of robbery.

If you stole several valuable items from one victim, you would face one count of robbery.

Sentence Enhancement

You could potentially face additional penalties if your robbery case has aggravating factors. Among them is using a gun and whether the victims sustained bodily harm.

  1. Victims Sustaining Physical Injury

Penal Code 12022.7 provides for a sentencing enhancement in cases involving the infliction of great bodily injury (GBI) upon a victim during the commission of certain felonies, including robbery.

The sentencing enhancement under PC 12022.7 applies if your actions directly caused the GBI during the commission of the crime and not if another factor caused the injury. If a victim experiences a heart attack during a robbery. The enhancement would only be applicable if the defendant's actions directly led to the heart attack.

If the victim sustained significant injuries from the robbery, you would face another 3 to 6 years in prison, to be served consecutively. It means you must complete their sentence for the PC 211 violation and then begin serving a sentence for the PC 12022.7 enhancement.

  1. The Use of a Gun in a Robbery

Penal Code 12022.53, commonly known as the "10-20-life use a gun and you're done" law, imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving firearm use.

Under PC 12022.53, if a defendant is convicted of certain crimes, including robbery, and it is found that they personally and intentionally used a firearm during the commission of the offense, they face mandatory minimum sentences in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime. The compulsory minimum penalties depend on the circumstances of the offense.

  • 10 years in prison for personally and intentionally discharging a firearm during the commission of the offense.
  • 20 years in prison for personally and intentionally discharging a firearm during the commission of the crime and causing significant bodily injury to another person.
  • 25 years to life in state prison for personally and intentionally discharging a firearm during the commission of the offense and causing death or permanent disability to another person.

Note: The sentences under PC 12022.53 are mandatory and consecutive. They must be served in addition to the punishment for the underlying crime. They cannot be served concurrently.

  1. A Strike on Your Record

The Three Strikes Law imposes mandatory minimum sentences on defendants convicted of multiple serious or violent felonies. Robbery is listed among the serious or violent felonies. A conviction for a PC 211 violation will result in a strike on your criminal record.

If you have a prior strike on your record and are subsequently convicted of another serious or violent felony in California, you will face an increased sentence under the Three Strikes Law.

A second strike results in a mandatory sentence twice as long as the terms outlined above. On the other hand, a third strike results in a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison, regardless of the penalties outlined under PC 211.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you or someone you know is facing robbery charges and needs legal assistance, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights, build a strong defense strategy, and work to minimize the potential consequences of the charges you are facing.

The Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm is ready to assist if you or a loved one is facing robbery charges in Pasadena. Contact us at 626-628-0564 for a free case assessment. Remember, the sooner you seek legal help, the better your chances are of achieving a positive outcome in your case.