What is armed robbery?
UPDATED: April 23, 2012
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Armed robbery is a form of robbery which involves theft of property and carrying (or the pretense) of a weapon. It is considered a higher category of offenses relating to thefts and the use of force. Even though many of the elements of theft, robbery, and armed robbery overlap, an armed robbery conviction has significantly harsher consequences. Continue to learn more about the offense of armed robbery.
What is Armed Robbery?
The first element of an armed robbery charge begins with a theft allegation. Theft is taking personal property that belongs to another with intent to deprive them of the property (as opposed to just borrowing the item). Some states require a completed theft to support a robbery allegation. However, others only require an attempted theft. For example, if a person was trying to steal a six-pack of beer, but was caught before he could leave the entrance of the store, the attempt would be sufficient to set a robbery charge in motion.
The second element of an armed robbery charge is the use of force. The use of force is what brings a theft charge up to robbery. Many people focus on the actual infliction of force. Continuing with the example above, if a defendant pushed or shoved a store clerk while trying to get away with the six pack, then the physical touching and use of force would be sufficient. However, the use of force is not limited to a physical touch; it can also be through other actions or words. Actions could include destruction of other property, such as throwing cans or breaking objects to get a victim intimidated or frighten enough to comply with a theft. Words include threats to harm property or another person.
The third, and most crucial, element of an armed robbery charge is the use, pretense, or display of a weapon.So when a robbery is committed while in possession of a weapon (or the pretense that there is a weapon,i.e., a gun), the crime will be labeled as an armed robbery. The weapon or deadly weapon is what sets a theft allegation apart from a robbery without a weapon. Firearms are generally considered per se deadly weapons, regardless of whether they are loaded. Many defendants attempt to minimize the charge by arguing that the gun was unloaded, so the charge should only be considered a straight robbery. Unfortunately, the absence of bullets will not negate the display or use of the weapon. The policy reasoning is that the use or display of the gun was to intimidate or scare another individual, and the objective was accomplished regardless of the number of bullets used.
In addition to firearms, other items can be considered weapons or deadly weapons. Different states use different standards for what is required regarding the use of a deadly weapon. Some only require the use of a weapon, which is any object that could potentially harm another. Other states says it is any object that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, even if there is no actual injury inflicted. There are no limitations on what object can potentially be considered a weapon under either standard. Weapons include: knives, bb guns, lead pipes, broken bottles, pieces of glass. If a defendant cannot avoid a conviction for robbery, usually the best defensive theory will be to negate the weapon or deadly weapon allegation in order to get the lesser charge.
Defenses to an Armed Robbery Charge
Mistake in identity is a common defensive theme in robbery cases. Because the defendant is often a stranger, many cases are based on eyewitness testimony, which is increasingly being challenged as unreliable. If an armed robbery charge is based on other factors such as video surveillance tapes or fingerprint evidence, then mistake of identity defense will be less effective.
A second defensive tactic is not to challenge the robbery, but instead challenge the use or display of the weapon which resulted in the aggravation of the charge. For example, law enforcement may charge a defendant for armed robbery if the victim saw a weapon, like a knife or pipe, in the defendant’s back pocket during the commission of the offense. If the victim cannot provide any other details like the defendant threatening to use it or brandishing the weapon in the direction of the victim, a defendant can raise a defense that the weapon was not used during or in furtherance of the commission of the offense. This defensive theory is not always effective at the trial level, but tends to be more effective on appeal when a higher court is reviewing a case for the sufficiency of the evidence. If a defendant wins on this issue, the punishment range is greatly mitigated.
Other defenses that may be used are lack of evidence, false allegations, or improper arrest.
Punishments for Armed Robbery
Armed robbery is considered an aggravated charge or violent offense. States impose higher ranges of punishment for aggravated charges. Depending on the laws of the charging state, the punishment range for an armed robbery charge is five years to life in prison. Judges will hand down harsher sentences if there was a death or injury during the commission of the crime, the victim was particularly vulnernable, the defendant had a past criminal record of the same type of offense, or the weapon used when committing a crime was particularly dangerous (i.e., a loaded gun).
In addition, defendants convicted of aggravated charges like armed robbery tend to be subject to harsher parole standards. This means they are required to complete more of their prison sentence before they are released on parole. Straight robbery, on the other hand, has a punishment range of two to twenty years with much lighter parole standards.
A defendant may or may not qualify for probation or deferred adjudication for armed robbery. Because it is considered a violent offense, many jurisdictions do not frequently offer probation to defendants who commit armed robbery. However, if a defendant can show that his involvement was minimal or there were mitigating circumstances, he may be able to qualify for a probated sentence. Factors could include demonstrating that the defendant (i.e., an accessory) was not the actual bad actor in the group and that he never personally used the weapon; only a co-defendant did. Age and little or no criminal history or expressing remorse can also be mitigating factors. If a defendant is placed on probation for armed robbery, he will usually be subject to intensive supervision which includes frequent reporting requirements.
After a defendant is convicted of armed robbery, an additional consequence is that he will be considered a convicted felon. Every state has its own sentencing guidelines. Some are similar to the federal system which adds points to a defendant’s next sentence if he has prior convictions for violent offenses. Armed robbery is considered a violent offense which will result in a higher punishment range if a defendant is later charged and convicted of another felony offense.