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Robbery Laws and Penalties

The State of California takes the crime of robbery very seriously, classifying all offenses under California Penal Codes 211-215 as felonies. Long Beach Criminal Attorney in Long Beach, CA understands the law and the various defenses that may be employed on behalf of a person who has been accused of robbery.

Definition of Robbery

The most basic definition of robbery comes from the very first line of California Penal Code 211 PC, which states that robbery involves taking of personal property in a felonious manner while that property is possessed by another person. The code further states that the property could be on the person or simply in his/her immediate presence. Finally, the property must be taken against the other person’s will, and the act of taking has to accompanied by the presence or threat of force and/or fear.

In order for a crime to be classified as robbery in California, there are certain elements that must be involved in the crime. These elements are the facts that must be proven in court by a prosecutor in order for you to be considered guilty of the crime of robbery.

According to PC 211, the elements that must be present for you to be considered guilty are as follows:

  1. You took property that did not belong to you;
  2. The property that you took was in the possession of someone else;
  3. You were in the immediate presence of the other person when you took property from them;
  4. The property that you took was taken against the will of the other person;
  5. You exercised the powers of force and/or fear in order to take the property from the other person, or to keep them from resisting your efforts; and
  6. At the time you incorporated force and/or fear to remove the property from the other person’s possession, your intention was to remove the property from that person permanently, or for a sufficient period of time as to deprive the other person of the major value of the property.

All of these fit the classic idea of a robbery in the minds of most people. But robbery in California can sometimes evolve from the commission of other, lesser crimes. These include:

  • Should you break into a house (thereby committing the California offense known as burglary) with the residents inside, threatening them with physical harm and then taking personal property from the occupants of the house;
  • Giving drugs to someone, and then taking their personal possessions while they remain unconscious; and
  • You could be caught in the act of taking property that is not yours (which would be classified as either the crime of petty theft or grand theft in California), and you then threatened the property’s owner with physical harm so that you could escape.

Each of these instances illustrates how a lesser crime is amplified into the more serious crime of robbery by the addition of fear and/or use of force.

Penalties for Robbery

If your crime is classified as robbery under Penal Code 211 PC the penalties for the crime will be classified as other felonies. The only differences in the consequences you will incur will depend on whether you are charged with first-degree robbery, or of robbery in the second degree.

The elements that make a crime first-degree robbery in California are:

  • a robbery that involves a driver or passenger who is being transported by taxi, streetcar, subway, bus, a cable car, or any other similar means of public conveyance;
  • any robbery that takes place in a structure that is inhabited, or
  • robbery of a person who recently used an automated teller machine (ATM) and remains in the near the ATM after withdrawing cash.

First-degree robbery leads to a state prison sentence of between three and nine years in California.

A charge of robbery in the second degree would involve all of the elements of robbery as previously defined but does not include aggravating circumstances such as those listed above. Second-degree robbery can result in sentences of two years, three years, or five years in state prison.

Defenses Against Robbery Charges

Just as with any crime, and experienced criminal defense attorney can help you know your rights under the law and can assist in planning a solid defense for your court case. There are several alternatives for mounting a legal defense of robbery charges in California courts. Even if convicted, a well-presented defense case can often result in having your charges reduced or, in the best possible case, dismissed as part of a pre-trial process.

A few of the most common defenses that may be available to you include:

No force or fear

As noted earlier, the main determinant of a robbery charge is the key element of “use of force and/or fear”. This distinguishes robbery from other crimes of theft in California. Any prosecutor who cannot prove the element of force or fear cannot ultimately make a robbery charge stand up in court. You might be convicted of a different type of crime – there are several other kinds of theft in California – but the other theft crimes usually maintain lesser penalties and tend to have less of an effect on the defendant’s record than a robbery.

For example, your robbery charge could be overturned if you took the property of another person who felt intimidated enough to hand over their property even though you actually took no specific action to cause fear, nor did you threaten the use of force.

PC 211 charges could be fought on these grounds.

You believed the property was yours

California has a provision in the law for what is known as a “claim of right” defense. Should you rob someone—but only because you had an honest belief that the property they had in their possession rightfully belonged to you – the robbery can be excused under California law.

You could be wrong about your rightful claim to the property; however, as long as you honestly believed you had that right at the time of the robbery, the claim of right defense would still apply.

The one situation where this defense does not apply, however, is if you took the property from another person in order to settle a debt.

You are a victim of mistaken identity

A pretrial lineup is often used to identify defendants in the event of a robbery. Law enforcement personnel know that such identifications often result in mistakes and false accusations.

Also, identification by a victim is often based on certain elements that are deemed to be circumstantial, rather than a direct, face-to-face encounter. The perpetrator of a robbery could have been wearing a mask or been disguised in other ways; if the victim’s identification is based on articles of clothing, or by the general build (height/weight, etc.) or other pieces of evidence that are considered by the court to be flimsy, this identification could be considered less than reliable.

An experienced criminal attorney will be able to evaluate the case presented by the prosecutor to determine whether it is based on this type of less-reliable, circumstantial evidence. Your attorney may be able to fight the PC 211 charges by demonstrating such holes in the evidence and raising doubt in the minds of the jury as to whether such evidence is 100% correct.

You could be falsely accused

False accusations are a very common occurrence in California courts. This could occur for any number of reasons. Perhaps the actual perpetrator desires to cover up his or her own guilt, and the accusation is made against you. It could be that a jealous or angry ex-spouse has a reason to accuse you, such as hoping to exert control over you.

This is one more reason that you want an experienced robbery attorney on your side so that they can conduct a thorough examination of the facts in order to determine what has actually occurred.

Other Considerations in a Robbery Defense Case

These are not the only options for mounting a defense should you face trial for a charge of robbery. Your attorney may want simply to argue that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not prove that you committed a crime. You may even want to admit to performing the actions of which you have been accused, but that there are certain facts that make you not culpable for the crime for which you are charged. This is known as an “affirmative defense.”


The most important element of any criminal prosecution – and certainly for a robbery charge – is the fact that the burden of proof lies with the government in showing that a defendant committed a crime and that the evidence proves the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of this burden of proof, a defendant can often avoid being convicted by challenging the evidence offered by the prosecution, or by offering up counter-evidence that disputes the prosecution’s presentation.

Cases have been dismissed for such counter-evidence as proof that the defendant was in another state at the time of the robbery and has several eyewitnesses to corroborate that fact. A defendant doesn’t actually have to prove their own innocence, nor do they have to convince a jury that they are innocent. You, along with your criminal defense attorney, simply must be able to cast a reasonable amount of doubt as to the prosecution’s arguments. If successful, your case can be acquitted.


If a defendant was intoxicated – either voluntarily or involuntarily – at the time of the commission of a crime, that can actually become an affirmative defense.

Involuntary Intoxication

When a person has become intoxicated due to actions outside of their own control, they can usually be excused from any criminal behavior that might be committed while they were intoxicated. Of course, the defendant will have to prove that any intoxication occurred without their personal knowledge or that the intoxication was initiated against their will.  

Voluntary Intoxication

Voluntary intoxication is not often allowed as a defense against crimes under California law. However, one of the exceptions allowed by law is if the state of intoxication prevented the person from forming a specific intent to commit the crime. Since robbery requires this use of specific intent with regard to violence in stealing another person’s property, intoxication could be seen as rendering a defendant unable to form this specific intent. Most likely, the use of a voluntary intoxication defense will result in the defendant's conviction on lesser charges that carry a lower threshold for specific intent.


An entrapment defense can be difficult to prove but could be useful in the case where the person who was robbed was involved in instigating the robbery specifically for the purpose of bringing charges against the defendant. In other words, if the defendant is coerced or pushed into committing a crime that they would not have committed under usual circumstances, then the defendant may be able to use an entrapment defense.

An important distinction in considering an entrapment defense: if the defendant already had the intention of committing the crime of robbery, entrapment cannot be used as a defense even if someone else (including law enforcement officers) provided the opportunity for the crime.


A final defense consideration depends on whether the defendant was forced to commit a robbery because they themselves were threatened with bodily injury or death. This is known as “duress” and, though difficult to prove, can be a very effective defense. Be aware that some courts have rejected duress defenses because the defendant could have avoided committing the robbery without risk of injury or death.

Robbery Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

There is no doubt that robbery is a serious crime, and if you are facing a charge of robbery, you would be well-advised to consult a qualified criminal defense attorney. The experience that a firm like Long Beach Criminal Attorney can bring to your case will be extremely valuable. You can reach out to the criminal defense attorneys at Long Beach Criminal Attorney by calling 562-308-7807.