In looking over my blog posts, it appears I started — or at least had aspirations to start — making posts aimed at law school students. Specifically, I wanted to add some real-world details to the offenses that law school only teaches in a general or basic way. To be fair to law schools, this general or basic way is by necessity as the school has no idea which jurisdiction, if any, the student will ultimately practice law in and how that jurisdiction defines that particular offense.
Many legal offenses are defined in terms of a criteria-based approach. In other words, the offense in question (e.g. robbery) has a set number of requirements or criteria that have to be satisfied. If the “net evidence” shows that these criteria have been satisfied or proven to a specific standard (e.g. beyond a reasonable doubt), then the defendant will be guilty or liable of that offense. I say “net evidence” here because you should remember that the decision of guilt or liability will be made after considering (1) the evidence tending to show guilt or liability as well as (2) the evidence tending to not show guilt or liability. There is no quantitative way to compute what evidence cancels what, but the idea of a net balance should still make sense. In other words, is there ultimately more credible and reliable evidence showing guilt or liability or is there more credible and reliable evidence showing that the defendant is not guilty or not liable?
If all of that made sense, I’m going to talk about the crime of robbery in this post and put some specifics to how California defines it. The general or basic criteria for robbery from law school are:
- Defendant takes property
- That property does not belong to the defendant
- That property was in the possession of another person.
- That person did not consent to the property being taken
- Defendant used force or the threat of force to take the property
- Defendant used force or the threat of force intending to take the property from the person.
If you wanted to simplify it, a robbery is taking property from another person without consent using force or the threat of force. Imagine, for example, someone brandishing a gun and threatening to shoot you if you don’t hand over your wallet or purse.
In California, this basic crime of robbery is defined in Section 211 of the California Penal Code. As you can perhaps imagine, there are many, many, many areas where this general or basic definition from law school is not gray. For instance:
- What is “property” exactly? Does it have to be tangible? When is ownership of that property established?
- What does “possession” by the victim mean exactly? Does it have to be physically in their hand or is it merely enough for the property to be near the victim?
- What constitutes a “threat of force”?
- How long a time must the defendant take the property? What if the defendant takes the property, but then has second thoughts and drops the property immediately and runs away?
In addition to these grays areas, California’s robbery laws also have significant nuance.
Felony or Misdemeanor?
First up is the most common question I think laypeople have when it comes to crimes: is robbery a felony or misdemeanr?
In California, robbery is always a felony. You can tell that by looking at the explicit language of Section 211 of the California Penal Code:
“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.”
Degrees of Robbery (California Penal Code Section 212.5)
For instance, you might have seen or heard on a TV show about degrees of robbery. California has 1st degree and 2nd degree robbery, both of which are mentioned in Section 212.5 of the California Penal Code. Section 212.5 says the following:
“(a) Every robbery of any person who is performing his or her duties as an operator of any bus, taxicab, cable car, streetcar, trackless trolley, or other vehicle, including a vehicle operated on stationary rails or on a track or rail suspended in the air, and used for the transportation of persons for hire, every robbery of any passenger which is perpetrated on any of these vehicles, and every robbery which is perpetrated in an inhabited dwelling house, a vessel as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code which is inhabited and designed for habitation, an inhabited floating home as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code, a trailer coach as defined in the Vehicle Code which is inhabited, or the inhabited portion of any other building is robbery of the first degree.
(b) Every robbery of any person while using an automated teller machine or immediately after the person has used an automated teller machine and is in the vicinity of the automated teller machine is robbery of the first degree.
(c) All kinds of robbery other than those listed in subdivisions (a) and (b) are of the second degree.”
A few things of note here:
- Every instance of robbery is 2nd degree robbery, unless it can be proven to be 1st degree robbery.
- 1st degree robbery is reserved for specific instances only. For example, robbing someone when they are near or using or have just a bank ATM. Section 212.5(a) is a bit long to read, but it essentially deems any robbery occurring in the context of a public transportation scenario or the victim’s home to be 1st degree robbery.
This distinction between 1st and 2nd degree robbery is important because, as you might expect, the sentences are different. The sentences are described in Section 213 of the California Penal Code as follows:
“(a) Robbery is punishable as follows:
(1) Robbery of the first degree is punishable as follows:
(A) If the defendant, voluntarily acting in concert with two or more other persons, commits the robbery within an inhabited dwelling house, a vessel as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, which is inhabited and designed for habitation, an inhabited floating home as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code, a trailer coach as defined in the Vehicle Code, which is inhabited, or the inhabited portion of any other building, by imprisonment in the state prison for three, six, or nine years.
(B) In all cases other than that specified in subparagraph (A), by imprisonment in the state prison for three, four, or six years.
(2) Robbery of the second degree is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or five years.
(b) Notwithstanding Section 664, attempted robbery in violation of paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison.”
1st degree robbery, as the more serious form, warrants more state prison time.
Robbery In Concert (California Penal Code Section 213(a)(1)(A))
The astute among you will notice that Section 213 above — specifically (a)(1)(A) of Section 213 — mentions something about the defendant “voluntarily acting in concert with two or more other persons” to commit the robbery. In essence, a group of people commit a robbery together. The mere act of committing a robbery with others warrants more prison time, namely 3, 6, or 9 years in state prison versus 3, 4, or 6 years in state prison.
This sentencing enhancement only applies in certain instances, of course. As 213(a)(1)(A) describes, the 3, 6 or 9 year potential state prison sentence only applies if two criteria are met: (1) committing a robbery with other people, and (2) the robbery itself is committed in any of the following five environments: (a) an “inhabited dwelling house”,(b) a ” vessel as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, which is inhabited and designed for habitation”, (c) “an inhabited floating home as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code“, (d) “a trailer coach as defined in the Vehicle Code, which is inhabited”, or (e) “the inhabited portion of any other building”.
If you’re a law student, I hope that helps you understand a bit more about how robbery laws actually work in California. As always, this post is just a high-level overview of the subject matter. If you do have a case involving robbery, you absolutely need to thorough research the details. Hopefully the links I’ve included in this post help you do that.
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