Penalties for Robbery

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 What Are the Penalties for Robbery?

Robbery is defined as the taking of another’s property by force or threat. Because robbery involves the threat or use of violence, it is considered a more serious crime than many of the other theft crimes, such as larceny or embezzlement.

Legally speaking, the crime of robbery involves:

  1. the taking of the property of another
  2. from their person or in their presence
  3. by violence, intimidation, or threat
  4. with the intent to deprive them of it permanently

Robbery is distinct from the crime of larceny in two important ways:

  1. First, robbery occurs through the use of force and intimidation. A perpetrator is not required to use significant force or extreme threats to commit a robbery. All that is required is the amount of threat necessary to cause the victim to give up their possession(s). This will vary depending on the victim’s state: it takes less force to intimidate an elderly woman than to scare a strong young man.
  2. A second distinction of robbery is that the crime must occur in the victim’s presence. This is because there could not be a threat of harm or actual harm if the victim was somewhere else (e.g., away at work). Larceny does not require this. Robbery can only be charged if the victim personally experienced the crime.

Is Robbery a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

It can be either one. State laws determine whether robbery is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. (A misdemeanor offense is, by definition, one that cannot have a jail term longer than one year. A felony is a more serious offense punishable by more than a year in prison.)

What Factors Determine the Penalties for Robbery?

The penalty for a robbery 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 a fact 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. State laws provide an increased penalty if the property’s value is above a certain amount.
  • The defendant has previously committed the crime. Most 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 previously convicted of robbery may face an enhanced jail sentence.
  • The level of threat or violence that was used. For example, if a defendant robs someone at gunpoint, the defendant may face a greater penalty than if the defendant threatened the victim using just their hands.

In contrast, a mitigating factor is a fact or circumstance surrounding the crime that makes the crime less severe. Mitigating factors include:

  • The defendant shows guilt and remorse for having committed the crime. A defendant who openly admits to committing the crime cooperates with police and expresses remorse to the judge, or a victim or a victim’s family may be penalized less than a defendant who shows no remorse or guilt.
  • The defendant committed the crime as a juvenile. State laws provide that crimes committed while a juvenile defendant may be tried and punished in a juvenile court. The penalties issued in a juvenile court are generally much less severe than those issued by an adult court.
  • The defendant had diminished capacity. In a diminished capacity defense, a defendant asserts that they suffered from a mental defect when they committed the crime and that the mental defect meant that the defendant never formed the intent to steal because they were incapable of doing so. If the defendant proves this defense, the sentence may be greatly reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
  • The defendant committed the crime under duress. “Duress” means that the defendant was in imminent danger of serious bodily harm from some third person or entity. Usually, this means someone else threatened the defendant, and their only way of escaping serious bodily harm was to commit the robbery.

A judge issues a sentence after the mitigating factors are weighed against the aggravating factors.

What are Typical Sentences for Robbery?

State robbery sentences typically classify robbery by degree (e.g., first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, third-degree robbery). First-degree robbery is punished more severely than second-degree robbery, which in turn is punished more severely than third degree-robbery.

For example, in New York, third-degree robbery is punished by 2-7 years in prison. Second-degree robbery is punishable by 3-½ years to 15 years in prison. First-degree robbery is punishable by 10 to 25 years. In addition to prison time, the judge may order a fine of up to $5000 or double the value of the stolen property, whichever is higher.

The classification depends on how egregious the offense was. One key factor is whether the victim was injured. If the victim was seriously injured (whether or not that was the defendant’s intent), the defendant may face a sentence commensurate with first-degree robbery.

If the defendant caused only a non-serious injury (e.g., some bruising on one arm), the penalty might be assigned to second-degree robbery. Robbery with no injury is punished as third-degree robbery.

Besides injury, the judge will consider the aggravating and mitigating factors described above.

Possible penalties include:

  • Prison time. For misdemeanor robbery convictions, a court may sentence the defendant to one year in jail. Felony convictions for robbery can result in much harsher penalties, including 5 to 20 years in prison or more.
  • Fines. Misdemeanor fines are typically less than $1,000, but fines for felonies may exceed $100,000.
  • Restitution. The court will typically require the defendant to pay restitution and fines. Restitution costs are paid directly to the owner of the stolen property, while fines are paid to the state. Restitution payments are usually equal to the value of the stolen property.

The judge does not order one other form of penalty. It just happens. Criminal charges, particularly felony ones, are notoriously difficult to expunge from one’s record. When someone is convicted of a crime (particularly a felony), their records are altered. A criminal record may make it difficult for the person to obtain employment or some benefits.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer if I Am Charged With Robbery?

Robbery charges are very serious, and robbery laws are complex because they vary from state to state. For these reasons, it’s in your best interests to hire an experienced criminal lawyer if you or a loved one is facing robbery charges.

Your attorney will know the definition of robbery in your state and will be able to gather evidence for a defense. Often, the lawyer will obtain an independent valuation of the property. If it’s worth less than the prosecutor claims, you may receive a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony.

The lawyer will negotiate on your behalf and represent you in court if necessary.

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