Elements of the Crime
In most states a conviction for robbery requires the state demonstrate the crime’s elements. In other words, it must first be definitively proven that property was taken—from the possession of another person—that was not yours to take. It must also be proven that you took the property against the other person’s wishes, using coercion or intimidation and that when you relieved the person of their property you had every intention of depriving the person of their property either for good or for a significant length of time. Robbery is generally classified as a “continuing offense” meaning each element must be proven however they don’t have to happen in a particular sequence.
Further, a robbery is only “complete” once the person who took the property gets arrested or has safely made their getaway. The relative worth of the items taken are generally considered irrelevant in the commission of a robbery. The act of taking the property must contain its own two elements—that you gained possession of another person’s property and that you carried it away. Carrying something away denotes that you took some movement and under most laws even if you decided to give it back right away after you “carried it away” you are still on the hook for robbery. Therefore if a person grabbed a woman’s purse, turned away to look inside it, decided there was nothing worth stealing in it and gave it back they would still have committed the act of robbery.
To prove robbery, the property taken must be in the immediate presence of the person it is being taken from, meaning it is well within the control of the person and that fright prohibited the person from retaining possession of his property. The item or items taken do not absolutely have to be on the victim’s person but must be in a vicinity under which control would be logically exercised. The element which states the property taken must have been taken against the person’s will means only that it was taken without their consent.
The Most Common Legal Defenses to Robbery
Your lawyer may assert that you did not intend to take the property and only did so after using force or fear for another purpose. Further, if you accidentally took property but later decided to keep it, the elements of robbery have not been fully met although you might be charged with petty theft or grand theft. A second potential defense could be that you took someone else’s property but did so without exerting undue influence or fear therefore you did not violate the robbery law. Again, you could be charged with petty or grand theft or possibly embezzlement. Robbery involves force or fear—if these elements are not present then you must be charged with another crime or all charges must be dropped. A third defense is called claim of right and exists when you may have robbed another person but only because you had an honest and reasonable conviction that the precise property you took rightfully belonged to you.
Claim of right will not apply in situations where you are merely settling a debt. Say your neighbor asked to borrow your wheelbarrow and then destroyed it. You cannot rob him of $50 to make up for the broken wheelbarrow, rather you are only allowed under the law to reclaim the wheelbarrow itself. Mistaken identity is always a potential defense since many robberies involve people who wear masks meaning others could be falsely accused of the offense of robbery. Perhaps you really didn’t commit a robbery and have been falsely accused by an angry ex or a vindictive neighbor. Whether you committed the crime or not it’s imperative that you hire a highly experienced criminal defense attorney early on in the process. Don’t wait, hoping the charges will go away—they almost never do. Your attorney will work hard on your behalf to ensure your future is not forever wrecked by a stupid mistake or a false accusation.