San Diego Criminal Attorney is an experienced and highly rated criminal defense law firm serving clients in and around the San Diego area. The attorneys for the firm are well versed in California criminal law and can handle all types of robbery cases for their clients. There are various possible defenses for a robbery charge, some of which include arguing diminished responsibility or arguing for the application of lesser charges. It is also possible to argue that the defendant is innocent of said charges.

What is Robbery Under California Law?

The state of California, under Penal Code 211 PC, defines the crime of robbery as a felony in which property was taken from another person, against their will and either directly or in their immediate presence, by using force or fear. It is a form of theft that is defined by its inherently violent nature and is basically a combination of assault and theft. In jurisdictions that differentiate between robbery and other kinds of theft, such as California, it is always a felony.

Robbery is differentiated from lesser crimes of theft, such as burglary or petty theft, by the concept of whether the defendant used force or fear in the commission of the crime. This is a crucial point and is necessary for prosecutors to prove in court in order to gain a conviction. Essentially the charge of robbery is applied when the perpetrator has explicit intent to use force or fear to make a victim comply with their demands. Force can be defined in fairly broad terms, but the most obvious example is the use of a weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to rob a victim. It can also be defined as using drugs or intoxicants to incapacitate a victim before robbing them of their possessions.

However, the force does not necessarily have to be carried out during the commission of the crime to qualify as a robbery: the defendant merely has to use intimidation and/or the imminent threat of force to cause fear in the victim. For example, if Jack approaches Sara from behind and demands she hand over her purse while claiming to have a gun, even if Jack used a toy gun during the commission of the crime it would still be considered robbery. If the victim sincerely fears for their life or safety, as well as the life or safety of anyone else, then a robbery has been committed.

First Degree Robbery and Second Degree Robbery

The penalties for committing robbery depend on whether it is robbery in the first degree or robbery in the second degree. As per California Penal Code 212.5(a), robbery in the first degree is when:

  • Anyone inside of a structure or building that is inhabited or full of people, including a house, dwelling, apartment, bank, store, restaurant, etc. is robbed. A structure is considered inhabited if any person is currently present or if they have momentarily left and intend to return. An inhabited dwelling also includes any vessel or floating home.
  • Any driver or passenger of a vehicle, such as a car, taxi, form of public transportation, etc. is robbed. The driver may include any person whose job it is to drive or operate said form of transportation.
  • Any person who is using or has just used an ATM is robbed. Even if said person is only in the vicinity of an ATM, it is still considered robbery in the first degree.

The penalties for robbery in the first degree include formal probation, a fine of up to $10,000, and between three (3) and six (6) years in a state penitentiary. However, if the crime was committed in an inhabited structure and there were multiple victims of the crime, then the punishment could be up to nine (9) years in a California penitentiary.

As per California Penal Code 212.5(c), robbery in the second degree is defined as any form of robbery that does not fit the definition of first degree robbery. The penalties for second degree robbery are probation, a fine up to $10,000, and between two (2) and five (5) years in a California penitentiary.

A count of robbery in a criminal case is determined not by how many possessions were stolen but by how many victims there were. If one perpetrator uses force or fear to rob two victims of one piece of property, then the perpetrator will be charged with two counts of robbery under California law. However, if the perpetrator steals two pieces of property from one victim, they will be charged with only one count of robbery under California law.

Related Charges to Robbery

If a theft is committed without the use of force or fear, then there are two possible charges the defendant may face:

  • Penal Code 487 for grand theft, where the value of the property that has been stolen is more than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or was taken directly off the victim.
  • Penal Code 488 for petty theft, for all other cases not meeting the criteria of grand theft.

Shoplifting or pickpocketing are criminal charges that would not meet the legal definition of robbery under California law and would both be considered either petty or grand theft, depending on the value of the items taken or the circumstances of the crime. Petty theft can be punished by a maximum of six (6) months in a county jail whereas grand theft can either be a misdemeanor or a felony and is punishable by sixteen (16) months to three (3) years in a correctional institution. Consequently, certain cases of robbery, if properly argued by the criminal defense, can be successfully brought down to lesser charges of petty or grand theft.

There are situations where a petty theft charge can turn in to a more serious charge of robbery. If a shoplifter is confronted by a security guard but attempts to push his way through or intimidate the guard to avoid being detained, then the petty theft becomes a robbery charge. This is commonly known as an Estes Robbery and includes both petty theft and robbery charges as well as any enhancements that may be applicable in the case.

There are other circumstances that can add serious sentence enhancements to the robbery charge. If during the commission of the crime the defendant causes great bodily injury to the victim, then an enhancement under California Penal Code 12022.7 could be applied. Great bodily injury, also known as great bodily harm, is defined as any injury that is substantial or significant and can only be applied to physical injuries, not emotional or financial ones. Serious bodily injuries include broken bones, brain trauma, and gunshot or knife wounds. However, the injury does not necessarily have to be permanent to count as great bodily injury.

Use of a deadly weapon during a robbery also carries a more serious charge. Under California Penal Code 12022.53, the use of a gun in the course of a robbery results in much stricter and more serious punishments.

  • If a firearm is used, an extra ten (10) years can be added to the sentence.
  • If the firearm in question is intentionally discharged, then an extra twenty (20) years can be added to the sentence.
  • If discharging the firearm in question results in great bodily injury or death, then an extra twenty-five (25) years to life can be added to the sentence.

There is also a special enhancement for the crime of carjacking as delineated under California Penal Code 215 PC. This is simply the crime of stealing a car using force or fear while in the immediate presence of the victim; it is essentially the exact same crime as robbery except that the object of value is always a car. It is punishable by three (3) to nine (9) years in a California penitentiary.

If there is an instance of kidnapping a victim during the commission of a robbery, whereby the perpetrator moves a victim any substantial distance, then California Penal Code 207 PC may apply. If during a carjacking a perpetrator forces the victim in to the car to move them to a sparsely populated area with the intention of robbing them, this is considered kidnapping and may be punishable by up to life in prison.

Furthermore, robbery in California is considered a violent felony and as such is subject to the “three strikes” law in the state. This effectively means that if you have a robbery conviction and you are charged with any felony, your sentence will be twice that of the standard penalty for that conviction. If you accumulate three convictions, or “three strikes,” then you will be facing a sentence of twenty-five (25) years to life.

What a Prosecutor Must Prove for a Robbery Conviction

In order to secure a robbery conviction, the prosecutor must establish several pertinent criteria.

  • The defendant took property that did not belong to them and the property was in possession of the victim at the time of the crime.
  • The defendant took the property in question while in the immediate presence of the victim.
  • The property was taken against the victim’s will.
  • Direct or indirect force and intimidation or fear were used by the defendant to make the victim or other people present reasonably fear for their life or safety as well as fear damage to the property in question.
  • The defendant attempted to escape with the property either permanently or temporarily.

The act of taking the victim’s property includes the act of moving it, if even for a short distance. Whether the defendant intended to take the property permanently or temporarily is irrelevant as both are considered robbery. If Jack snatches Mary’s purse and then throws it on the ground so that Mary regains possession of the purse (ie: her property), then Jack has still committed robbery.

Furthermore, the victim does not actually have to own said property to have possession over it: they only have to have the right or have been granted the right to have possession over it. This right to have possession over the property in question can be temporary and is usually granted by the original owner. This is known as “constructive possession” and is a crucial factor in the prosecution’s case. “Constructive possession” applies in the case of an employee working at a store where the property in question belongs to the store or company or if the property in question was temporarily lent to the victim. 

Another vital component of the prosecution’s case is the concept of “immediate presence” of the victim. If the perpetrator breaks in to a home with no one present, he is not guilty of robbery (though he is guilty of other crimes under California law). The victim is not in the “immediate presence” of their home at the time of the crime. It is important to note, however, that the inherent value of the property has no bearing on whether the crime is considered a robbery or not. In other words, if the perpetrator uses force or fear to steal $1 or a gold Rolex watch, both crimes are considered robbery.

Finally, the legal concept of “consent” is also crucial. If drugs or intoxicants are used to incapacitate a victim, thereby rendering them incapable of legally giving consent to transferring ownership of a particular piece of property, then the perpetrator of the crime would be charged with robbery. The original owner of the property has to knowingly give consent for property to be transferred in possession.

Common Legal Defenses for Robbery Charges

  • The single most important characteristic of a robbery charge is the establishment that the defendant used force or fear to commit the crime. The prosecution has to prove that the defendant had intent to use force or cause fear to coerce the victim in to complying with their demands. If the crime in question was not committed with this intent, then a common tactic in robbery cases is to argue that the crime was in fact a lesser crime of theft or petty theft as neither force nor fear were used by the defendant. These lesser charges carry far more lenient penalties as they are not considered violent crimes.

  • It is also possible to use a “claim of right” defense, whereby the defendant may argue that they believed they had an honest claim of ownership to the property in question. In other words, if the defendant honestly thought it was their property, then it is not considered a crime under California law. However, the “claim of right” defense may not be invoked in cases where the property is taken in order to settle debts.
  • Instances of mistaken identity are not uncommon when pretrial lineups are used to identify the perpetrator of a crime. If the defendant was identified by the victim in a lineup, but the perpetrator of the robbery was wearing a mask or otherwise had obscured their face, then a criminal defense attorney can successfully argue that there is no reasonable way that the victim could pick the perpetrator out of a lineup. Furthermore, without a reliable eyewitness account of the perpetrator’s face, then only flimsy circumstantial evidence may be used by the prosecution and any experienced criminal defense attorney can successfully poke holes in that line of argument.

  • False accusations are also not uncommon and such circumstances may be motivated by revenge, intoxication, mental illness or instability, or a simple misunderstanding. Using this defense essentially means that the defense is relying on the higher burden of evidence that the prosecution must present in any successful criminal case. Essentially, the prosecution has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime while the defense has to simply create a reasonable sense of doubt in the jury. This can take the form of dismantling eyewitness accounts or calling in to question flimsy circumstantial evidence as well as more proactive and affirmative defenses such as producing an alibi for the defendant.

  • Finally, it is also possible to argue involuntary or voluntary intoxication on the part of the defendant. An involuntary intoxication defense consists of proving that the defendant either a) did not know they were consuming intoxicating substances or b) were tricked in to consuming said substances. This is a rare defense, but it has been successfully used. Furthermore, a voluntary intoxication defense is also possible, though it does not excuse all criminal liability on the part of the defendant. In fact, it is only a partial defense and can be used to successfully argue that proving intent, such as the use of force or fear, is impossible in certain cases as the defendant was too intoxicated to formulate criminal intent.

Find a San Diego Criminal Attorney Specializing in Robbery Cases Near Me

In order to mount any of these potential defenses in your criminal trial, you will need the expertise and experience of a law firm like San Diego Criminal Attorney. We have attorneys who can successfully navigate the ins and outs of a robbery case and successfully argue in your defense. Call our firm at 619-880-5474 to speak to one of our highly qualified legal experts regarding your robbery case. You need us in your corner so call today!