The charge of robbery can be punished very harshly in the court system in California. All accusations of this form of theft are prosecuted under California Penal Code Section 211.
You can expect very severe consequences if you are convicted of robbery. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your situation, you could be charged with first-degree robbery or second-degree robbery. The Simmrin Law Group can help you learn more about these charges.
Definition of PC 211: Robbery
California Penal Code 211 (PC 211) defines robbery as the “unlawful taking of personal property in possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.”
A robbery is similar to theft except that it involves a physical confrontation between the robber and the victim. The crime is considered a “serious felony” because it carries a potential prison sentence.
Robbery can be either a violent or, in some cases, a nonviolent crime. For example:
- Nonviolent crime: If you snatch someone’s phone and run away with it, this could be robbery if the victim was scared into letting go of the phone.
- Violent crime: If you point a gun at someone and take their wallet, this would be robbery by force.
Individuals should only be charged with robbery if they take something in the owner’s immediate presence. Note that robbery charges can also apply if someone drugs a property owner and then takes their possessions.
First-Degree Robbery vs. Second-Degree Robbery
First-degree robbery is a crime in which the perpetrator threatens to kill their victim while robbing them. Second-degree robbery, on the other hand, involves threatening harm but not death. For example:
- A first-degree robber might point a gun at the victim and say, “Give me all your money, or I’ll shoot you.”
- A second-degree robber might threaten to break the victim’s arm if he or she doesn’t hand over their wallet and watch immediately.
Individuals in California can be charged with either:
A first-degree robbery charge only applies in specific cases. Individuals can be charged with first-degree robbery for robbing someone:
- Who recently used a nearby ATM
- Who is within an inhabited structure
- Who is driving or riding in any kind of motor vehicle
Note that a first-degree robbery charge can apply if someone is robbed in a cable or subway car. First-degree robbery is considered more severe than second-degree robbery in California.
The court uses the charge of second-degree robbery to prosecute all acts of a robbery that do not meet the definition of first-degree robbery. Many different actions that violate PC 211 can be used to prosecute robbery.
Second-degree robbery is seen as less severe than first-degree robbery. However, a second-degree robbery conviction still leads to prison time and incredibly steep fines.
What Are the Penalties for a Robbery Conviction in California?
Robbery is a felony offense under California Penal Code Section 211. First-degree robbery carries a sentence of up to nine years in prison, while second-degree robbery is punishable by up to five years.
Individuals who are convicted under PC 211 in California can face the following sentences:
- Up to nine years for first-degree robbery
- Up to five years for second-degree robbery
- Up to $10,000 for first-degree robbery
- Up to $10,000 for second-degree robbery
Robbery convictions can also lead to a period of felony probation. You should be aware that there are also sentencing enhancements that can increase the penalties for robbery in some circumstances.
Sentencing Enhancements Under California Laws
Many factors can affect a sentence for robbery under California Penal Code 211. The court may increase an individual’s prison sentence if:
- Multiple people are threatened or exposed to acts of force
- A victim sustains a great bodily injury
- A gun was used, and no one was hurt
- A gun was used, and someone was hurt
When a victim suffers great bodily injuries, the jury can add three to six years to the sentence.
Using a gun during a robbery can increase prison sentencing penalties, such as:
- 10 years if the firearm was used but not fired
- 20 years if shots were fired during the robbery
- 25 years to life if people were hurt or killed during the robbery
Robbery With Multiple Victims
The legal consequences of a robbery are determined by how many victims there are, not by how many items were taken.
For instance, if a person uses force to intimidate a group of five victims to take the wallet from only one of them, they will be charged with five counts of robbery instead of one. On the other hand, if the robber uses force or fear on one person, and that single person handles other people’s belongings, it is still only one count of robbery.
Three Strikes System
California laws have a Three Strikes sentencing system, and robbery is considered a strike. If a person has two previous strikes, their sentence can go from 25 years to life. You can find more about the three strikes law ahead.
Robbery, Theft, and Other Related Offenses in California
Many other offenses are frequently associated with robbery and even charged along with robbery under PC 211, which can affect the sentence if the evidence backs them up. Some of those related offenses are:
- Grand theft (CPC §487(a),(d)(2))
- Petty theft (CPC §488)
- Receiving stolen property (CPC §496(a))
- Extortion (CPC §518(a))
- Burglary (CPC §459)
- Kidnapping (CPC §207(a))
- Carjacking (CPC §215(a))
- Grand theft auto (CPC §487(d)(1))
- Unauthorized taking of a vehicle (California Vehicle Code [CVC] §10851(a))
Although every case is different, you can take a look at how these related offenses can affect a sentence for robbery:
It is considered grand theft when the amount of the goods taken is worth more than $950 or when a firearm is stolen. A person can be charged with grand theft even if no violence is involved. However, they need to move the property and keep it for some time.
A prosecutor that charges grand theft must be able to prove the following beyond any reasonable doubt:
- The accused took someone else’s property without the owner or its agent’s authorization
- It was worth more than $950, or it was a firearm
- It was taken with the intent to remove it from the owner long enough to make him lose a major portion of its enjoyment
- The accused moved the property and kept it for some time
Example: Imagine you own an amazing grill that is way over $1,000, and your neighbor is always asking you to borrow it, but you said no. One day you go out of town for a couple of days, and when you come back, you realize your grill is in your neighbor’s backyard.
You call the cops and report grand theft, but when they arrive, your neighbor keeps telling them that he didn’t mean to steal it and that he was going to return it to its owner. Should your neighbor be convicted?
Let’s take a deeper look. On the one hand, your neighbor:
- Took property worth more than $950
- Did it without the owner’s approval
- Moved the item a considerable distance
- Kept it for a while
However, given that he didn’t mean to take it for good, and he didn’t plan to deprive you of its future enjoyment, your neighbor CANNOT be charged with grand theft.
Petty theft is commonly associated with robbery because items of small value are often taken during robberies. To charge you with petty theft, the prosecutors must prove beyond any doubt:
- You took property without the owner’s authorization
- It was worth less than $950
- It was NOT a firearm
- You took it with the intent to keep it or remove it permanently from its owner’s reach
- You moved the property and kept it for some time
Example: Let’s say you have an old bicycle rotting in the backyard. Even though the bike may be worth less than $200, you keep it for sentimental reasons. One day, one of your neighbors looks at it, assumes it may be worth something as scrap metal, and then takes it from your property with the intent to sell it.
When you call the cops on him, he says he took it because it was just rotting there, and he thought you weren’t using it anymore. Should he be charged with petty theft?
He may have honestly thought you weren’t using it anymore, and he didn’t use any type of violence to take it. However, he took it with the clear intent to keep it (or sell it, in this case), and he tried to remove it permanently from its rightful owner. This person WILL BE charged with petty theft.
Receiving Stolen Property
This charge applies whenever someone buys property knowing it was stolen from somebody else. This charge also can be added for concealing, selling, or withholding property that doesn’t belong to you and that was unlawfully obtained.
Prosecutors must be able to prove the following beyond any doubt to proceed:
- You bought, sold, received, or concealed property that was taken from its rightful owner
- The property was traded without any authorization from the owner or its representatives
- You knew it was stolen property
Example: You “know a guy” who offers you the latest iPhone at a quarter of its price. When you check the phone, you find out there is someone else’s account on it, and when you ask your guy how he got it, he just says, “Oh, don’t worry! It was my cousin’s, but he wants me to sell it.”
So, you buy it from him. Later, you find out the phone was stolen, and you are being accused of receiving stolen property. Should you be charged with this crime?
Yes, you did buy an item that was stolen from its rightful owner. However, even if the price was a quarter of its value, you didn’t have any way of knowing it was stolen. You CANNOT be accused of receiving stolen property.
An extortion case occurs when a person obtains goods, services, or benefits from using force or intimidation on someone else. This offense is commonly related to robbery since means of extortion are widely used during a robbery.
A person can be charged with extortion if the prosecutor can prove:
- They threatened another person or their property
- They did it to force them into giving money, goods, or doing official acts
- They obtained what they intended
Example: Your manager is having an affair with his assistant. Another of your coworkers is bitter about not getting the raise he thinks he deserves. So, your coworker decides to threaten the manager with spilling the secret to the manager’s wife and gets the desired raise. Later, he accuses him of extortion. Will it stick?
Let’s take a look at your colleague’s behavior: he never spilled the secret, nor did he talk with the manager’s wife. However:
- He threatened your manager
- He did it to force him to do an official act (giving a raise)
- He got what he wanted
Therefore, your work colleague CAN be charged with extortion.
A burglary occurs when a person enters a building to commit a crime within the perimeters of the property. When the building in question is a home, a vessel, a floating house, or a trailer, it is considered first-degree burglary. The penalties for first-degree burglary can go up to six years in state prison.
Breaking into any other type of building (like business buildings) is considered a second-degree burglary. The penalty for second-degree burglary can go up to one year in county jail.
These are the elements a prosecutor must prove to get you convicted for burglary:
- You entered a noncommercial establishment or a commercial establishment outside business hours
- You entered the structure with the intent in your mind of committing a crime there
- You took or damaged property worth over $950
Example: You are a car shop owner, and a client comes one day with a noise in the engine. You help them and fix their car. When they are gone, you check the security tapes and find out that while you were working on their vehicle, they took tools worth more than $1,000 from your shop. Tou call the cops and report a burglary.
Let’s take a look at the facts:
- The person did enter your property
- They took more than $950 in stolen property
However, they took the tools not because they were planning on it, but because they saw the opening. So, there was no previous intent to commit a crime before entering the property. This person can get the burglary charges DROPPED or reduced to something less serious.
Kidnapping is the act of stealing, taking, holding, detaining, or arresting any person by using force or any other type of intimidation and taking them into another county, state, or nation. Kidnapping is associated with robbery since it is often a step into forcing someone to let go of their belongings.
Proving a kidnapping charge involves providing evidence of the following:
- You unlawfully took, withheld, detained, or arrested a person by using force or any other type of intimidation
- The person didn’t give consent
- You moved the person a substantial distance
Example: You are at work, and right when your shift is over and you are ready to go home, your manager tells you that a valuable item is missing and that you cannot go home until it appears. Your manager then threatens you with retaining your paychecks and even firing you if you do not comply.
He takes you into his office against your will and locks it, to “give you time to think.” On your first chance, you call the cops and accuse your manager of kidnapping. Let’s view that deeper:
- Your manager only wanted the valuable items back
- They were going to let you go
But the facts are:
- They took you against your will
- They moved you to another place (it may not look like much, but the California Penal Code does not specify a minimum distance)
- They use intimidation to force you to comply
Under these circumstances, your manager SHOULD be convicted of kidnapping.
Under CPC 215, carjacking is defined as the act of taking a motor vehicle from its rightful owner, or under their presence, by the use of force or fear. It must happen against the owner’s will and with the intent of keeping the vehicle or depriving the owner of it.
A prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused:
- Used force or fear to take possession of the motor vehicle
- They took it from the immediate presence of the owner or a passenger
- They did it against the owner’s will
- They intended to keep the vehicle
Example: You were going to charge gas at your local station. As you opened your car door, a couple of young men walked past you suspiciously. You thought they might have a gun, so you decide not to take any risks and run from the car, leaving it open with the key in the ignition.
The two men wait until you are out of sight and then jump in the car and run with it. You later report the vehicle as stolen. Police arrested the two men and charged them with carjacking. Will it hold?
These are the facts:
- They took the vehicle
- It was against your will
- They intended to keep it
But it also looks like:
- It was not in your immediate presence, and there were no passengers
- They didn’t do anything to threaten or force you
In this case, they CANNOT be charged with carjacking.
Defenses for Robbery Charges Under PC 211
Individuals who are charged with robbery may have legal options. It is important that you contact a criminal defense lawyer if you or a loved one is facing charges under PC 211. A lawyer can look over any robbery charges to determine if any of the following defenses would apply to your case:
You Truly Believed the Goods Were Rightfully Yours
Let’s say you can’t find your lawn mower, and suddenly you see it in your neighbor’s yard, so you get into his property and take what’s yours. Later you find out you were wrong, and your lawnmower was hidden under some boxes in the garage. Can your neighbor accuse you of robbery?
If you face a situation like the one before, and you truly believe the lawnmower was yours, you can have robbery charges dropped. However, this does not apply if you take it to settle a debt.
You Did Not Mean to Take or Keep the Property
Let’s say you are at a bar, and a guy with a baseball bat threatens you, so you take his bat and run with it to avoid being hurt. Since you only took it to defend yourself and not to keep it, you can have robbery charges dropped.
You Didn’t Use Force or Intimidation
Even though pickpocketing is punished by law, it cannot be considered robbery since it does not use force or intimidation.
You Were Falsely Accused
It is not easy to prove a wrongful accusation, but that is the exact reason why you need a good lawyer. Attorneys at Simmrin Law Group can help you find the evidence you need to defend yourself.
California Robbery Charges FAQ
With all the related charges and aggravating factors, being charged with robbery under PC 211 can be confusing. When you have questions, we have answers.
Is Robbery a Felony in California?
Yes, as stated in the California Penal Code Section 211, Robbery is always prosecuted as a felony in California, which means the penalties can be incredibly high.
A robbery conviction can lead to incarceration, fines, and probation. You could be sentenced to state prison for up to 15 years and be required to pay restitution to the victim and court fees as part of your sentence.
Depending on your situation, you could be charged with first-degree or second-degree robbery. The Simmrin Law Group can help you learn more about these terms.
What Does a Prosecutor Need to Prove Robbery?
For a robbery charge to hold against someone in California, a prosecutor must be able to provide evidence that:
- The person took property that didn’t belong to them
- The defendant took the property with the intent to deprive its rightful owner
- The goods were taken from the victim’s possession in their presence
- The property was taken as a consequence of force or intimidation
- The property was taken against the victim’s will
- The goods were taken for an extent of time enough to deprive the rightful owner of a major portion of its enjoyment
What Is Considered Use of Force or Fear?
Use of force means that a person has the means to cause harm—for instance, a loaded gun.
Use of fear implies, for instance, using that gun to threaten someone into letting go of their possessions. When a robber points a gun at a bank employee and demands, “All the money in the bag or I’ll shoot,” he is using both.
Is It Still Robbery if I Didn’t Take the Property Home?
If there was a “felonious taking,” moving the items only a small distance from their original place, it is enough to be considered a robbery. And it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t the robber. Even if he or she hired someone to move the items, they are still accountable for it.
Is There a Chance of Probation Instead of Serving Time?
Depending on many factors, a judge may grant probation instead of sending you to prison. When deciding whether or not to grant probation, the judge will look at factors like:
- Your criminal history
- The facts of your case (e.g., if any weapons or force played a role in the robbery)
- Any other evidence presented by the prosecution or defense
A California court will set some specific terms of probation that apply to your particular case. Some of those could be:
- You cannot violate any other law (traffic infractions don’t count)
- You must visit your probation officer as often as required by your mandate
- You must pay restitution to the victims of your crime
- Perform community service
Probation terms can last anywhere from three to five years. Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the court can ask for the maximum possible time in prison if you are found to violate your probation terms.
Call a Criminal Defense Attorney if You’re Charged With Robbery
The prosecution in your robbery case will try to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The good news is that there are several defenses that a criminal defense attorney could use in your favor. These include proving that you did not take property by force or fear or had no intent to sell or keep it.
Being accused under the California Penal Code Section 211 can have serious consequences. So, as always, the best advice is to get legal representation. The sooner, the better. You can rest assured our attorneys will explore all options to fight these charges and achieve the best possible outcome.
And if you still have questions, regardless of your particular case with a robbery claim or accusation, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Simmrin Law group.