Robbery is the taking of property from another through force or intimidation. Bank robbery is stealing bank property by force or intimidation while employees and bystanders are subjected to force or violence or the threat of force or violence. It is slightly different from burglary in that burglary involves breaking into a structure to steal property. So, bank robbery could involve burglary if the bank were to be closed at the time of the robbery and the perpetrators were to break into the bank.

Bank robbery does not include white collar crimes such as check fraud. However, passing a note to a teller demanding money is considered bank robbery even if no force is involved (a note can still intimidate). And, of course, often a bank robber indicates that they are armed and can enforce their demand for money with a weapon. In any event, the important point is that even robbing a bank without a weapon of any kind is bank robbery and it is considered a serious federal felony offense.

Why Is the Penalty for Bank Robbery Different from Other Robberies?

Bank robbery is treated more harshly by the law than is simple robbery. Bank robbery is penalized differently than simple robbery, because banks are federal institutions. As a result, bank robbery is a federal crime that carries federal punishment. Federal penalties for bank robbery are generally more severe than the punishment for robbery prescribed by state law.

Bank robbery is more often charged as a federal crime, especially when FBI agents perceive a particular instance of bank robbery as a threat to the general public, or if state lines have been crossed by the perpetrator. A person convicted of a bank robbery charge in federal court is punished according to the federal sentencing guidelines.

The exact penalties imposed will depend on specific factors such as the value of what was taken, or whether a weapon was used during the commission of the crime. Of course, if victims were taken hostage or if someone was injured during the commission of the crime, the punishment is significantly more severe..

In a federal case, a prison sentence could be less than one year in some bank robbery cases and as long as 25 years or more in others. If an innocent bystander is killed in the course of a bank robbery or in an attempt to evade authorities, the perpetrator could even face life in prison or the death penalty.

Robbery that is prosecuted and punished under state laws usually involves different establishments such as private businesses, e.g. stores, gas stations and the like. However, bank robbery can be charged as a crime under state law in all states also and the punishment can be every bit as severe as the federal offense depending on the state. For example, in Alabama, conviction of a charge of bank robbery can lead to a prison sentence of between10 and 99 years with a fine of up to $60,000.

Texas is another state in which bank robbery can lead to harsh punishment, including up to 99 years in the state penitentiary if certain aggravating circumstances are present.

In California, bank robbery is considered a first degree felony offense which can result in a prison sentence of three, six, or nine years. The term meted out upon a finding of guilt varies depending on aggravating circumstances, such as the perpetrators criminal history and whether or not the crime involved violence.

In Florida, a robbery can be classified either as a first or second degree felony, depending on aggravating circumstances, such as whether or not the offender was armed. Sentences can reach up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000

In Maryland, the crime of bank robbery, even if it does not involve the use or threat of use of a weapon, can lead to 15 years in prison. If the perpetrator uses, or even only threatens to use, a weapon, the sentence can run up to as much as 20 years in prison. Certain circumstances can escalate, or aggravate, the crime of bank robbery and are taken into account at the time of sentencing.

In New York state, a first degree robbery is a “class B” felony that carries a possible prison sentence of up to 25 years. A second degree robbery is a “class C” felony that can lead to up to 15 years in prison. A third degree robbery is a “class D” felony which can lead to up to seven years in prison. So, in any degree, in the state of New York, bank robbery is a serious felony criminal offense.

In the state of Wisconsin, robbery is usually a “class E” felony. However, if the perpetrator threatens to use or uses a deadly weapon, the crime becomes a “class C” felony, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 40 years in the state penitentiary and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

From this sampling of states, one can see that bank robbery is a serious offense that comes with harsh penalties that can include lengthy prison sentences, even if it is charged under state law.

What Are the Possible Consequences for Bank Robbery?

Bank robbery is a felony in every state. It is a serious felony under federal law as well. As noted above, the punishment can be harsh and often includes:

  • Long Term of Imprisonment: Bank robbers can even be sentenced to life in prison depending on the circumstances of their particular crime;
  • No Parole: A sentence of imprisonment without the possibility of parole is possible for a bank robbery with aggravating circumstances;
  • Death Penalty: If the perpetrator commits another crime, especially a serious battery or even a homicide while robbing a bank, imposition of the death penalty is a possibility in states that still have the death penalty;
  • Attempted Bank Robbery: Even attempted bank robbery is severely punished.

Every person who participates in a bank robbery can be charged with the crime as a co-conspirator or as an accessory. So, a person who is thinking of participating in a bank robbery as the driver of a “get-away” car, for example, should understand that their peripheral participation can still land them in a federal penitentiary.

The felony murder rule states that if a person is killed in the course of a felony crime, even if murder was not the intent of the perpetrator or any accessories, the perpetrator and anyone else who participates in the commission of the offense can be charged with murder. So even a co-conspirator or accessory who is not directly involved in the killing can end up convicted of felony murder with all of the harsh consequences that entails.

Should I Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

The law considers bank robbery a serious crime that can easily result in a term of imprisonment. In the worst cases, it can result in a lengthy prison sentence. If you are accused of bank robbery, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights, defenses, and how your case will proceed through the legal system, whether state or federal.