Robbery is the taking of someone’s personal property. This taking is from the other person’s person or presence (including anywhere in their vicinity). The taking is made by force or threats of imminent death or physical injury to the victim. The taking occurs with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the property. Robbery is a crime in every state. Penalties differ by state.
State laws determine whether robbery is punishable as a misdemeanor, or as a felony. A misdemeanor offense carries a jail term of up to one year. A felony is a more serious offense. A felony is punishable by more than a year in prison.
Whether robbery is punished as a misdemeanor or a felony, the offender may have to pay fines and restitution to the victim. A court may place the offender on probation, or order the offender to perform community service.
The penalty for robbery, like the penalty for other crimes, is determined by weighing aggravating factors against mitigating factors. If a defendant is found guilty of the crime, a judge or a jury will then weigh these factors against each other to determine the penalty.
An aggravating factor is defined as a fact or circumstance surrounding the crime, that makes the crime worse in the eyes of the law. In the case of robbery, aggravating factors may include:
- Committing the robbery against an elderly person or a child: Many state laws provide for a greater penalty for crimes committed against vulnerable people, including elderly people or children;
- The value of the property stolen was high: Many state laws provide for an increased penalty if the value of the property was above a certain amount of money;
- The defendant has previously committed the crime: Many state laws punish a repeat offender more harshly than a first-time offender, A first-time offender may avoid serving time in jail, while a defendant who has previously been convicted of robbery may face an enhanced jail sentence; and
- The crime was committed in a dangerous circumstance: If a crime is committed when there is a higher degree of risk of injury or death to a defendant, the offender may face an increased penalty. For example, if a defendant robs someone at gunpoint, the defendant may face a greater penalty than if the defendant threatened the victim with physical injury.
In contrast, a mitigating factor is a fact or circumstance surrounding the crime that makes the crime less severe. Mitigating factors include (among other things):
- Defendant’s showing remorse for having committed the crime: A defendant who admits to committing a crime and who expresses remorse to the judge or a victim or a victim’s family, may be penalized less than a defendant who shows no remorse;
- Defendant committed the crime as a juvenile:. State laws provide that crimes committed while a defendant is a juvenile may be tried and punished in a juvenile court. The penalties issued in or by a juvenile court may be less severe than those issued by a court in which the defendant is charged as an adult;
- Defendant committed the crime with diminished capacity: A defendant may assert a diminished capacity defense to the crime of robbery. In a diminished capacity defense, a defendant asserts that they suffered from a mental defect at the time they committed the crime, and that the mental defect erased any intent to steal. If defendant proves this defense, the sentence may be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor; and
- Defendant committed the crime under duress: To prove they acted under duress, a defendant must prove they were in imminent danger of serious bodily harm. This means that they were placed in fear by the person creating the dangerous situation, and that committing the robbery was the only reasonable way to prevent the serious bodily harm.
A judge issues a sentence after the mitigating factors are weighed against the aggravating factors.
State robbery sentences typically classify robbery by degree (e.g., first degree robbery, second degree robbery). First degree robbery is punished more severely than second degree robbery, which in turn is punished more severely than third degree robbery.
In New York, for example, a defendant may face a sentence of first degree robbery if the defendant caused serious injury during the robbery. The penalty may be second degree robbery if the defendant caused non-serious injury. Robbery with no aggravating factors is punished as third degree robbery.
If you have been charged with robbery, you should consult a criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense lawyer near you can evaluate your case and advise you about potential penalties.