Robbery is defined as the taking of another’s property by force or threat. It is sometimes also referred to as larceny by threat or force. Because robbery involves injury or the threat of injury, it is considered a more serious crime than many of the other theft crimes.
In 2012, over a quarter of a million robberies occurred in the United States. This is a twenty-five percent reduction from the more than one million robberies that occurred per year for much of the 1990s.
Elements of Robbery
The crime of robbery involves (1) the taking of the property of another (2) from his or her person or in their presence (3) by violence, intimidation or threat (4) with the intent to deprive them of it permanently. Robbery is thus distinct from the crime of larceny in two important ways. First, the theft occurs through the use of force and intimidation. A perpetrator is not required to use significant force, or extreme threats, in order to commit a robbery. All that is required is the amount of violence or fear necessary to cause the victim to give up his or her possessions. This may vary based on the value of the possession and the victim. For instance, less violence may be required to rob an elderly woman of her possessions than would be required to intimidate a strong young man. It is also important to note that the violence must occur as part of the theft in order for the crime to rise to the level of robbery. If an individual uses violence after the theft while trying to escape police, for instance, this will not make the crime a robbery.
Robbery vs. Larceny
Robbery and larceny are similar, but robbery involves two additional factors:
1The perpetrator uses force (or threats)
2The crime happens in the victim’s presence
A second distinction of robbery is that the crime must occur in the victim’s presence. This is because violence or threat of harm requires the presence of the victim. If the victim is unavailable, the elements of a robbery cannot be completed. While larceny requires that the possessions that are stolen belonged to someone else, they can be taken in secret or while the owner is unavailable. Robbery can only be charged if the victim personally experienced the crime.
Where a perpetrator does not harm a victim, but merely threatens the victim with harm, several additional requirements must be met in order to show that a robbery occurred. Threats during a theft only rise to the level of robbery if they are imminent threats that include a threat of death, bodily injury, or destruction of the victim’s home. If a criminal threatens to shame the victim or spread rumors about them, this will not turn a larceny into a robbery. Additionally, the victim must have an actual and reasonable fear based on the threats. For example, if a weightlifter is threatened by a small child who is trying to steal his wallet, it is doubtful that the weightlifter would be “reasonably” afraid of the child and this is probably not a robbery.
Toy Guns and Threats in Appearance Only
A perpetrator using a toy gun may still be guilty of robbery if the threat elicited actual and reasonable fear from the victim at the time of the robbery, regardless of whether the threat truly existed.
Many states provide for varying degrees of robbery depending on the level of violence exerted against the victim. Aggravated robbery is a robbery that occurs under the most serious of circumstances and usually requires either that a deadly weapon was used during the robbery or that the perpetrator inflicted serious bodily harm on the victim. For instance, if a criminal uses a gun or knife to commit the crime, or gravely injures the victim, he may be charged with aggravated robbery. Some states also apply aggravated robbery to any robbery that occurs against special groups of victims, such as elderly persons or disabled individuals.