The History Of Robbery
First listed as a plea of the Crown by Henry II in the twelfth century, robbery was one of the early crimes under English law to be made punishable by the state rather than through compensation of the injured party or through private vengeance. While not well defined at this time, robbery probably required a taking by actual force from the person of the victim, and was punishable by death or mutilation. It soon became a capital felony, however, and remained so in England—at least in theory—until the great reforms of the 1830s, when the list of capital crimes was sharply reduced. The last execution in England for simple robbery took place in 1836.
Although Roman law and other ancient codes recognized a crime similar to robbery, the older Anglo-Saxon law did not always include the concept. At one point the distinction between thefts done in the open (manifest) and thefts carried out in secret was more important. Unlike modern law, which emphasizes the potential for violence in robbery, this distinction appears to have been based on the greater certainty of proof available when the thief is caught red-handed.
In the United States, robbery was from colonial days a felony punishable by death. As late as the early 1960s, ten states made some forms of robbery punishable by death. The punishment was far from theoretical, as twenty-four persons were executed for robbery offenses between 1930 and 1962. Current constitutional doctrine would prohibit the execution of an offender convicted of robbery only. However, when his accomplice kills someone in the course of their crime, a robbery offender, under at least some circumstances, can be sentenced to death on a felony murder theory, even if he did not himself intend the killing (Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987)).
Robbery as a separate category embodying theft by violence is contained in the codes of many countries and cultures, both ancient and modern. This method of categorization is not universal, however, and some important legal systems have done without it. Thus, although German and Soviet law have long treated robbery as a separate crime, French law does not. Theft with violence is considered an aggravated form of theft but not a separate crime.