Updated March 4, 2016
In general, the crime of robbery occurs when the offender uses force, violence, intimidation, or threats to take property from the victim. Read on to learn more about robbery and how it differs from theft and burglary. This article also provides examples of robbery cases and sample criminal statutes on the offense.
Robbery is a serious crime that typically involves both theft and violence—or at least the threat of violence. Unlike burglary, which usually occurs outside the victim's presence or awareness, robbery involves the offender's immediate use of force or fear to take personal property directly from the victim. A classic example of robbery involves the holdup of a convenience store. A robber pulls a gun (thus using force or fear, even if the gun is unloaded or is actually just a toy gun) and demands money from the clerk. Purse-snatching can also constitute robbery.
Criminal statutes often define robbery differently and assign different punishment depending on the seriousness of the offense. For example, they might divde robbery into degrees or specify that certain circumstances make a robbery "aggravated." Robbery can become a more serious crime, for example, if it's committed inside a residence or against a certain class of people, like the elderly. The presence of a weapon often elevates the crime of robbery. Some states specify that use of a dangerous or deadly weapon makes for an "armed robbery" classification.
Example 1. Opper Tunist comes upon a person who is lying on the pavement, apparently passed out from the effects of alcohol. Seeing no one else around, Opper removes the wallet from the sleeper's pocket and runs away. So has Opper committed a robbery? The answer is likely no, because Opper didn't use force or fear. Opper did, however, commit some form of theft—by taking the sleeper's property without permission.
Example 2. Cal Lechter accosts Cora Spondent outside a baseball card show, believing that Cora just bought the Puddinhead Jones card that Lechter wants for his collection. Lechter points a gun at Cora and says, "Give me the cards you just bought." Cora complies. Lechter flips through the cards, then asks, "Where's the Puddinhead Jones card?" Cora replies, "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't have it." Lechter then throws the cards to the ground in disgust and runs off. Lechter did not actually keep any of Cora's cards, but could Lechter still be convicted of robbery? Probably. Lechter took property using force or fear.
Elements like physical force and fear mean robbery is considered a serious crime, even when compared with other theft offenses. It's almost always a felony. Sentences handed down after a robbery conviction can be stiff (longer than a year), especially in cases involving weapons or injuries to victims.
To better understand how robbery is defined, check out these excerpts from Florida robbery statutes. (Observe how Florida treats the issue of intent to deprive—some states require that the defendant intend to permanently deprive the victim of the property in question.)
For more on robbery, including whether actually taking property is always an element of it, see The Crime of Robbery. For information about the law in your jurisdiction and how it applies to you, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer.