The term “armed robbery” usually evokes the image of masked gunmen robbing a bank. But even using threatening behavior to forcefully take a person’s cell phone can be armed robbery. A conviction for armed robbery can cause significant damage to a person’s reputation, as well as to his ability to get a job or housing, for years into the future. Don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong attorney if you are facing charges for armed robbery or any other felony offense.
What Is armed robbery?
According to the FBI, “The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines robbery as the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear.”
When weapons are involved, robbery becomes a more severe crime. When a person uses violence or intimidation along with a weapon to take another person’s property, he has committed armed robbery. It’s important to note that the defendant doesn’t actually have to be in possession of the weapon; simply stating that one has a weapon is enough to constitute armed robbery. In most states, armed robbery is charged as “aggravated robbery.” In Minnesota, for example, “whoever, while committing a robbery, implies, by word or act, possession of a dangerous weapon, is guilty of aggravated robbery in the second degree.”
The aggravating circumstance of a weapon or threat thereof is what makes armed robbery distinct from simple robbery. As such, the penalties for armed robbery are generally much greater.
Proving guilt of armed robbery
To prove that a person has committed armed robbery, the prosecution must be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the following elements were present:
- The defendant took personal property from another person without that person’s consent.
- The defendant must take control of the property, even if only briefly.
- The defendant must have intended to permanently deprive the victim of his or her personal property.
- Violence or threats of violence were used. The defendant pushed the victim down, hit or shoved the victim, or threatened to do so.
- In the case of armed robbery, the defendant must have also used a weapon or threatened to use a weapon.
Was the victim present?
If the property was taken from another’s person, the crime is generally considered robbery and not theft. For example, where theft can involve taking an item from a store shelf when nobody’s present, robbery involves physically taking property from another person’s grasp or presence (within the victim’s control).
There are exceptions. In some states, theft with the use of violence or threats of violence will constitute robbery, even if the stolen item was not in the victim’s immediate presence. Attorney Harry Sandick of Patterson Belknap writes that while presence is required in many states for criminal charges, “Robbery under New York law, however, no longer requires that property be taken in the presence of the victim—rather, robbery may be committed, for instance, through the use or threat of force to compel a victim “to deliver up” property not in his presence.”
Depending on your state and where the crime was committed, you should discuss with your lawyer whether the presence of the victim will influence your charges.
Consequences of armed robbery
Robbery is a felony offense, whether armed (aggravated) or not. As such, penalties are usually quite severe. In addition to probation, prison and hefty fines, those convicted of armed robbery may also have to pay restitution to the victim or perform community service if they are unable to pay. In some states, defendants could be facing life imprisonment if the circumstances of the crime are particularly severe, and many states—including California—impose a minimum sentence of five years.
Fortunately, multiple defenses exist. If you have been charged with robbery or aggravated robbery, it is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Michigan-based defense attorney Patrick Barone says armed robbery is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit.
“Judges commonly impose serious punishments for these crimes,” Barone says. “This is especially true if any injury occurred, or if there was a vulnerable victim, such as an elderly person, woman or child. In addition to the usual punishment, the prosecutor can ‘pile on’ additional counts such as felony firearm. In Michigan, this adds a mandatory two years that must run consecutively to the underlying sentence.”
If you are facing charges for aggravated or armed robbery, speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as you are able.