The taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation.
Robbery is a crime of theft and can be classified as LARCENY by force or by threat of force. The elements of the crime of robbery include the use of force or intimidation and all the elements of the crime of larceny. The penalty for robbery is always more severe than for larceny.
According to statistics from the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI), 422,921 incidents of robbery occurred in 2001. This number was significantly lower than a decade earlier. The FBI estimated that between 1992 and 2001, the number of robberies in the United States dropped by 37.1 percent. According to the 2001 statistics, robbery accounted for 29.4 percent of violent crimes in the United States, costing victims a total of $532 million. The average loss per victim during that year was $1258.
The general elements of robbery are the taking of PERSONAL PROPERTY or money from the person or presence of another, the use of actual or constructive force, the lack of consent on the part of the victim, and the intent to steal on the part of the offender. Neither deliberation nor premeditation is necessary, nor is an express demand for the property.
Robbery requires a taking of property from the person or presence of the victim, which means that the taking must be from the victim's possession, whether actual or constructive. Property is on the victim's person if it is in his hand, in the pocket of the clothing he wears, or otherwise attached to his body or clothing. The phrase "from the presence" or "in the presence" has been construed to mean proximity or control rather than within eyesight of the victim. For example, a robber takes property from the victim's presence if the robber locks the victim in one room and then takes the valuable from another room. There is sufficient proximity even though the victim cannot see through the walls into the room where the valuables are stored.
The property taken must be close enough to the victim and sufficiently under his control that had the robber not used violence or intimidation, the victim could have prevented the taking. As an example, if a robber uses force to immobilize a property owner at one place while an ACCOMPLICE takes the owner's property from a place several miles away, the distance between the owner and the owner's property is such that the owner could not have prevented the taking even if he had been free to try to interfere.
A robbery must also include a taking or asportation, a carrying away by which the goods are taken from the victim's possession and transferred to the possession of the robber. The crime
is complete when the robber acquires possession of the property, even for a short time. The robber does not have to transport the property away from the physical presence of the person who has lawful possession of it or even escape with it. The slightest change of location is sufficient to establish asportation. Once the robber takes possession of the property, the offense is complete, even if the robber later abandons the property.
The personal property that is taken must have some value, but the amount of its value is immaterial. The crime of robbery can be committed even if the property taken is of slight value. Actual monetary value is not essential as long as it appears that the property had some value to the person robbed.
The property does not have to be taken from the owner or holder of legal title. The robber may rob someone who has possession or custody of property, though that person is not the owner of it. The person from whom the property was taken must have exerted control over it.
The taking must be accomplished either by force or by intimidation. This element is the essence and distinguishing characteristic of the offense. Taking by force without intimidation is robbery. Taking by intimidation without the use of actual force is also robbery. Force and intimidation are alternate requirements, and either is sufficient without the other.
The force must be sufficient to effect the transfer of the property from the victim to the robber. It must amount to actual personal violence. The line between robbery and larceny from the person is not always easy to draw. For example, when a thief snatches a purse from the owner's grasp so suddenly that the owner cannot offer any resistance to the taking, the force involved is not sufficient to constitute robbery. Hence that crime would be larceny. If a struggle for the purse ensues before the thief can gain possession of it, however, there is enough force to make the taking robbery. The same is true of pick-pocketing. If the victim is unaware of the taking, no robbery has occurred and the crime is larceny. But if the victim catches the pickpocket in the act and struggles unsuccessfully to keep possession, the pickpocket's crime becomes robbery.
The particular degree of force becomes important only when considered in connection with the grade of the offense or the punishment to be imposed. Evidence establishing a personal injury or a blow, or force sufficient to overcome any resistance the victim was capable of offering, is not required.
A robber may also render the victim helpless by more subtle means. Constructive force includes demonstrations of force, menace, and other means that prevent a victim from exercising free will or resisting the taking of property. Administering intoxicating liquors or drugs in order to produce a state of unconsciousness or stupefaction is using force for purposes of robbery. Constructive force will support a robbery charge.
Intimidation means putting in fear. The accused must intentionally cause the fear and induce a reasonable apprehension of danger, but not necessarily a great terror, panic, or hysteria in the victim. The fear must be strong enough to overcome the victim's resistance and cause the victim to part with the property. The victim who is not fearful of harm from the robber so long as she does what the robber says, but who expects harm if she refuses, is nevertheless "put in fear" for the purposes of robbery.
Putting the victim in fear of bodily injury is sufficient. The fear can be aroused by words or gestures, such as threatening the victim with a weapon. The threat of immediate bodily injury or death does not have to be directed at the owner of the property. It may be made to a member of the owner's family, other relatives, or even someone in the owner's company.
The force or intimidation must either precede or be contemporaneous with the taking to constitute a robbery. Violence or intimidation after the taking is not robbery. If, however, the force occurs so soon after the taking that it forms part of the same transaction, the violence is legally concurrent with the taking. Force or intimidation employed after the taking and merely as a means of escape is not a sufficient basis for a robbery charge.
Unless a statute provides otherwise, a robbery cannot be committed without criminal intent. The robber must have a SPECIFIC INTENT to rob the owner of the property. The element of force or intimidation is not a substitute for the intent to steal.
The offender's intent must be determined from his or her words and actions. A person who forcibly takes property by mistake or merely as a joke, without an intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently, is not guilty of robbery. The intent to steal must be present at the time the property is taken, but premeditation is not part of the criminal intent necessary for the commission of robbery.
Most robbery statutes distinguish between simple robbery and aggravated robbery. The most common aggravating factors are that the robber was armed with a deadly weapon or represented that he or she had a gun, that the robber actually inflicted serious bodily injury, or that the robber had an accomplice.
There are three important federal robbery statutes. The Federal Bank Robbery Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 2113) punishes robbery of property in the custody or possession of any national bank or of any bank that is insured by the federal government. Two provisions (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 2112, 2114) punish robbery when the property taken is from the U.S. mail or is property belonging to the federal government. The Hobbs Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 1951) punishes the obstruction of interstate commerce by robbery.
"Crime in the United States." Federal Bureau of Investigation website. Available online at <www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_01/01crime2.pdf> (accessed August 26, 2003).
LaFave, Wayne. 2003. Substantive Criminal Law. 2d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.