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.
The crime of robbery under California Penal Code Section 211 PC is defined broadly as a theft using force. Because robbery involves the use of force or fear, it is considered a serious felony-level offense that can result in substantial prison sentences.
To prove a defendant has committed robbery, a prosecutor must be able to prove the following elements:
- The defendant took property that did not belong to him or her.
- The property was taken from another person’s possession and immediate presence.
- The property was taken against that person’s will.
- The defendant used force or fear to take the property or to prevent the other person from resisting.
- AND when the defendant used force or fear to take the property, he or she intended to take it away from the other person permanently or for such an extended period of time that the owner would be deprived of the value or enjoyment of the property.
A person takes something when he or she gains possession of it and moves it some distance, however short. Even if the property is immediately returned, the defendant can still be charged with robbery.
A purse-snatcher operates by going into a crowded area and ripping purses off women’s shoulders, then running away and keeping whatever property he finds inside. This man could be prosecuted for robbery under California Penal Code Section 211 PC because he forcefully takes property from someone else.
However, in another example a pickpocket operates in a busy commercial area by carefully removing wallets and jewelry from people he brushes up against. He is able to take their property without their knowledge. While the pickpocket could be charged with a theft crime, he would be not prosecuted for robbery, as he did not use sufficient force or fear as required by Penal Code § 211.
DEFENSES TO ROBBERY
If someone has a claim of right or an honest and reasonable belief that the property belongs to them, they would have a legal defense to any robbery charge if they use force to retrieve that property. For example, a man learns that his neighbor has stolen an expensive tool from his garage. The man sees the neighbor using the tool, confronts him and forcefully removes it from his hands. This man could not be charged with robbery because he had a claim of right to the property. However, the claim of right defense would not protect a defendant from charges of battery or criminal threats.
If the robbery was committed on the driver or passenger of a commercial vehicle, in someone’s home or on a person who has just left an ATM machine, the defendant could be charged with first degree robbery which can carry a prison sentence of up to nine years.
All other robberies are punishable by up to five years in prison. If the defendant has robbed more than one victim, he or she can be prosecuted and punished for multiple counts of robbery. If a gun was used in the robbery, the defendant can be sentenced to ten years in prison and twenty years if the gun was fired.
This offense is a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes law and any conviction can be used to enhance future sentences. A defendant convicted of robbery loses his or her ability to own or purchase firearms permanently.
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