Essentially, robbery is a theft coupled with either the threat or actual infliction of injury. A person is guilty of robbery, if in the course of committing a theft, he 1) inflicts bodily injury or uses force upon another. Let’s stop there for a second and consider that first provision. “Uses force” has been held to mean (for example), the pulling created on one’s shoulder during a purse snatching, a slight shove to the side, and pulling away from a victim who tried to detain the perpetrator. The bottom line is the use of force terminology encompasses a wide array of acts that in many instances would not even amount to an assault.
Bodily injury is more straight forward, but not as limiting as one would think. Bodily injury is “physical pain” or any “impairment of physical condition.” Once again, the threshold is not tremendous. The simple act of bumping into someone during the course of a theft could result in a 2nd degree robbery charge.
Under subsection (2) a person is guilt of robbery if during the course of committing a theft, threatens another or purposely puts him in fear of immediate bodily injury. The threat must intend to convey that immediate harm would come if the victim did not comply.
Under subsection (3) a person is guilty of robbery if in the course committing a theft commits or threatens to commit ANY crime of the first or second degree.
Robbery is a crime of the second degree, except that it is a crime of the first degree if the actor attempts to kill anyone or inflicts or attempts to inflict SERIOUS bodily injury, or is armed with, or uses, or threatens the immediate use of a deadly weapon. For example, “give me your money, I have a gun.”
Many things must come together for the State to prove a robbery conviction. For example, they must prove that the defendant was in the course of committing a theft. If the force happened first, and the intent to commit the theft happened afterwards, then the defendant is not guilty of robbery, for example.
Another good example is the fear of the victim. Testimony from the victim that he was afraid is not sufficient in “fear” cases to prove that element. The focus is not on the victim, but on the actions and purpose of the defendant.
This brings me to the next important point. Many of the required elements of proof for robbery revolve around the mens rea, or state of mind/intent of the accused. For example, this may be an important consideration in cases where there is a question as to whether or not the defendant was in the course of committing a theft. This is also the case where the State’s case is based, in part, on actions it alleges put the victims in fear, and did the actor do so purposely.
Robbery is not a “black and white” crime. There is a TREMENDOUS amount of gray area and this makes it a very defensible charge in our opinion. This practice section just scratches the surface, and as always, each case is fact specific.
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