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Is “Robbery” a felony? A criminal defense lawyer explains
Yes, robbery is generally prosecuted as a felony offense. However, most states classify two different degrees of robbery. The less-severe degree may be a misdemeanor in some rare cases. Defendants may also be able to avoid a felony conviction through a plea deal. This is often done by pleading guilty to the crime of theft.
What is robbery?
Robbery is the crime of theft, accomplished through the use of force or fear. In California, for example, the elements of the crime of robbery are:
you took personal property that you did not own,
the property was in the possession of someone else,
you took it from their immediate presence,
you took it against their will,
you used force, fear, or the threat of force to take the property or to keep them from resisting, and
when you used force or fear, you intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
Because robbery requires the use of physical force or fear and is often a violent crime, it is a more serious offense than theft.
What are the 2 types of robbery charges?
Most states recognize 2 different types of robbery. These are:
the less severe type, often called second-degree robbery, robbery, or simple robbery.
Generally, all robbery charges are second-degree unless they include a specific factor. If they include that factor, they become charges of first-degree robbery. In California, the factors that elevate second-degree robbery to first-degree robbery are:
the victim was a driver or a passenger in hired transportation, like a bus, taxi, or subway,
the robbery took place in an inhabited structure, like a house, or
the robbery took place while the victim was using an ATM or immediately thereafter.
Other states may use different factors to elevate the offense.
A couple of states’ criminal laws, like New York, have a third-degree robbery offense. Aggravating factors can then elevate it to either second- or first-degree charges.
What are the penalties for a conviction?
The criminal penalties for a felony robbery conviction depend on the state. However, even second-degree robbery is generally a felony offense. In most states, robbery is not even the least severe type of felony. Convictions carry substantial prison time.
In California, for example, first-degree robbery convictions carry:
These penalties are considerably higher than the 1-year prison sentence that draws the line between a felony and a misdemeanor.
Are these penalties ever enhanced?
The penalties for a robbery conviction can be enhanced, or made even higher, in a variety of ways. Just a few of these aggravating factors are when you commit robbery and:
did it in a carjacking incident, robbing someone’s motor vehicle,
used a firearm or another type of deadly weapon, often referred to as an armed robbery,
did it in an inhabited structure,
caused a serious bodily injury or bodily harm,
robbed a bank,
acted in concert with others, or
did it to a vulnerable victim, like a senior citizen.
For example, the prison time for California first-degree robberies increases if you rob an inhabited structure in concert with 2 or more other people. Rather than a sentence of 3, 4, or 6 years, you could face 3, 6, or 9 years in prison.
Can robbery ever be a misdemeanor?
It is extremely rare for robbery to lead to a misdemeanor conviction. If you are convicted for robbery, typically the only way for it to be a misdemeanor is if it was the result of a plea deal.
A common tactic during the plea bargaining process is charge bargaining. This is when you and your criminal defense attorney offer to plead guilty, but only if the charge is reduced.
If you have been charged with robbery, this generally involves offering to plead guilty to a theft offense. In many states, theft or larceny can be a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken is less than a certain amount. In California, that amount is $950. A theft conviction for an amount lower than that is petty theft which, if you do not have a bad criminal record, carries up to:
The criminal defense lawyers at our law firm have found that this type of plea bargain is not uncommon. Depending on your interests, this defense strategy may be worth pursuing, particularly if the prosecutor has a weak case against you. You may even be able to avoid jail time.
 California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) No. 1600.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.