This is an important question because robberies are usually different from burglaries because a robbery is going to involve some sort of force or fear being exerted; whereas, a burglary just involves going into somebody's house and stealing some property from that particular person. It doesn't necessarily mean the person was home. It doesn't necessarily mean that there was any force or fear, although that's certainly something that can happen during the course of a burglary.
Robbery is defined by California Penal Code Section 211 as a crime of taking the property of another from their possession by force or fear. Armed robbery is a much more serious crime than robbery because it involves the use of a weapon.
Robbery is Force or Fear to Take Property From Someone
But, when you're talking about robbery, you're talking about a circumstance where somebody used either force or fear to take property away from another person. We even see this happening during the escape of a robbery where the person doesn't use any force or fear to take the property and normally that would just be a theft, but during the escape they're confronted and they use some sort of force of fear. They threaten a person, for example, and then that turns the case into a robbery.
So, the answer to the question about whether or not you need some sort of a weapon like a gun or a knife in order to be charged with robbery is, no. You could run on the street and snatch somebody's purse off their arm. That would be force and that would be stealing and that would be sufficient for a robbery.
Enhancement for Using a Weapon in a Robbery
Now, where the weapon part does make a difference as it relates to a robbery case is that there could be extra enhancements charged, under California Penal Code 12022.53, in addition to the robbery if you use a weapon during the course of a robbery.
For example, if you go into a liquor store and use a gun, not only are you going to be charged with robbery which has a six year max, you're also going to be charged with using the gun which is a ten year enhancement in Los Angeles, California.
So, in that scenario alone you would be looking at sixteen years. It shows you just how serious the legislature, police, prosecutors and judges take robbery cases when people use the advantage of a gun. Even with a knife, there's an extra enhancement for the use of a knife during the course of a robbery. And not only do these enhancements apply when weapons are used, the prosecutors view the robbery more seriously.
For example, in that purse snatching that we talked about earlier, a lot of times if the person has no criminal record and nobody was hurt, we can get that robbery mitigated down to for example, grand theft person which is not a robbery. It is not a strike. We can eventually get that reduced down to a misdemeanor and get a dismissal for you if you could successfully complete probation.
But, if on the other hand, you use a gun to commit a robbery, you have absolutely no chance in Los Angeles county to get probation and to avoid that robbery conviction. The circumstances are just simply too serious and it's highly unlikely the prosecutors would get rid of a robbery in that particular scenario.
Negotiating With Prosecutor to Avoid Robbery Enhancement
Now the use of a knife, maybe that's a middle ground between not using any weapon and using a gun. A knife certainly is a weapon. A knife certainly is dangerous and would scare the victim, however, if nobody was hurt and you didn't try to stab the person with the knife, a good defense attorney might be able to make the argument under the right circumstances that you shouldn't have to be convicted of a robbery, even though technically it is a robbery.
So, you don't need to use a weapon to commit a robbery. But, if you do use a weapon during the course of a robbery, you're looking at a host of punishments. You're looking at likely going to prison for a significant period of time and you make it very difficult on your defense attorney to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
One angle that we've used in the gun scenario is, when the gun law came into effect that made it a ten year enhancement, for some reason the legislature didn't make moves to take the other gun law off the book, which is basically three, four, ten.
So, a lot of times we can attempt to use that old gun law in place of the ten year enhancement and get the ten year enhancement struck. The prosecutors don't have to do that. The judges don't have to do that, but sometimes they're willing to do that if the person has no criminal record, nobody was hurt and the defense attorney can make a strong argument that that ten year gun enhancement shouldn't be used.
That's way too much time for a particular because that ten years is served at 85% and it's not just ten years, it's going to be whatever time you get for the robbery — even a low term in a robbery is a two year sentence — so, in a lot of these cases where people are using a gun to commit a robbery, the opening offer in the case — even for somebody with no record — is twelve years, and that's because the person is looking at sixteen years.
So, the prosecutors have a lot of leverage and power in these robbery cases where weapons are used and you're best served by getting a defense attorney who has handled these cases before and had success.