Robbery

Learn about robbery and how it differs from theft and burglary.

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.

What Is Robbery?

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.

Robbery: Case Examples

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.

Punishment for Robbery

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.

Robbery: State Law Example

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.)

812.13. Robbery

(1) “Robbery” means the taking of money or other property which may be the subject of larceny from the person or custody of another, with intent to either permanently or temporarily deprive the person or the owner of the money or other property, when in the course of the taking there is the use of force, violence, assault, or putting in fear.

(2)(a) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried a firearm or other deadly weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the first degree ... .

(b) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried a weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the first degree ... .

(c) If in the course of committing the robbery the offender carried no firearm, deadly weapon, or other weapon, then the robbery is a felony of the second degree ... .

(3)(a) An act shall be deemed “in the course of committing the robbery” if it occurs in an attempt to commit robbery or in flight after the attempt or commission.

(b) An act shall be deemed “in the course of the taking” if it occurs either prior to, contemporaneous with, or subsequent to the taking of the property and if it and the act of taking constitute a continuous series of acts or events.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 812.13.)

812.131. Robbery by sudden snatching

(1) “Robbery by sudden snatching” means the taking of money or other property from the victim's person, with intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the victim or the owner of the money or other property, when, in the course of the taking, the victim was or became aware of the taking. In order to satisfy this definition, it is not necessary to show that:

(a) The offender used any amount of force beyond that effort necessary to obtain possession of the money or other property; or

(b) There was any resistance offered by the victim to the offender or that there was injury to the victim's person.

(2)(a) If, in the course of committing a robbery by sudden snatching, the offender carried a firearm or other deadly weapon, the robbery by sudden snatching is a felony of the second degree ... .

(b) If, in the course of committing a robbery by sudden snatching, the offender carried no firearm or other deadly weapon, the robbery by sudden snatching is a felony of the third degree ... .

(3)(a) An act shall be deemed “in the course of committing a robbery by sudden snatching” if the act occurs in an attempt to commit robbery by sudden snatching or in fleeing after the attempt or commission.

(b) An act shall be deemed “in the course of the taking” if the act occurs prior to, contemporaneous with, or subsequent to the taking of the property and if such act and the act of taking constitute a continuous series of acts or events.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 812.131.)

Learn More and Get Help

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.

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