Robbery is a common charge in Southern California, but it is not always an easy charge for prosecutors to prove. A skilled robbery lawyer can raise one or more important defenses to an accusation of robbery. Nine of the most common defenses to robbery are discussed below.
What the Prosecution Must Prove
A California prosecutor must prove each of the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction on a robbery charge:
- the defendant took property that did not belong to the defendant;
- the property was in the possession of another person when the defendant took it;
- the property was taken from the other person or was taken from his or her immediate presence;
- the property was taken against the person’s will;
- the defendant used force or fear to take the property or to prevent the other person from resisting;
- when the defendant used force or fear, the defendant already had the intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently or for an extended time.
Each of those requirements creates an opportunity for the accused to create reasonable doubt and avoid a conviction.
Defense 1: The Property Belonged to the Defendant
Some defenses involve disputed ownership. Suppose the alleged victim borrowed a chain saw from the defendant and refused to return it. The defendant, seeing the alleged victim using the chain saw, confronted him. When the alleged victim refused to relinquish the chain saw, the defendant took it from him after threatening to punch him if he did not return it.
In that scenario, the defendant has a defense. He can argue that he was taking back his own property and not property that belonged to the alleged victim. If there is a reasonable doubt about ownership, the jury should find in the defendant’s favor.
Defense 2: The Property Was Not in Another Person’s Possession
Some defenses involve disputed possession. Suppose the alleged victim loaned a chain saw to the defendant that the defendant never returned. The alleged victim, seeing the defendant using the chain saw, confronted him. When the defendant refused to relinquish the chain saw, the alleged victim called the police.
In that scenario, no robbery was committed. The defendant has no right to keep the chain saw, but he did not take it by force from the alleged victim. It was in the defendant’s possession when the alleged robbery occurred, so the jury should find the defendant not guilty.
Defense 3: The Property Was Not Taken from the Owner’s Immediate Presence
Some defenses involve disputes about the property owner’s presence when the property was taken. Suppose the defendant attended a party at the alleged victim’s home. While the alleged victim was in the kitchen, the defendant stole an I-phone that was sitting on a table in the living room. The police later tracked the I-phone to the defendant’s location and arrested him for robbery.
The defendant again has a strong defense. Because the alleged victim was not present when the phone was taken, the accused may have committed a theft, but not a robbery. A reasonable doubt about the owner’s presence when property was taken should help the defendant avoid a conviction.
Defense 4: The Property Was Not Taken Against the Owner’s Will
Some defenses involve a dispute about whether property was given, loaned, or taken. If the defendant points a gun at the alleged victim and says “Give me $50,” it is fair to believe that the $50 was taken against the owner’s will. If the defendant merely said “Give me $50” and made no threats or threatening gestures, a jury might reasonably conclude that the defendant was asking for (and received) a gift or a loan.
Defense 5: The Defendant Did Not Use Force or Fear
Some defenses involve a dispute about whether the accused used physical force or made the alleged victim fear injury to his or her body or property. Threats can create fear (“give me your wallet or I’ll break your nose”) but prosecutors sometimes base charges on implied threats (“give me your wallet” accompanied by a clenched fist). Implied threats are often ambiguous, and the available of alternative interpretations creates room for reasonable doubt.
Whether force was used may be in doubt when there are no credible witnesses to the alleged crime. If the alleged victim says “The defendant hit me,” the defendant denies using force, and there is no medical evidence suggesting the use of force, the differing accounts of what happened may create a reasonable doubt that will lead to acquittal.
Defense 6: The Defendant Did Not Intend to Take Property When Force Was Used
Some defenses involve a dispute about the defendant’s intent. A robbery requires proof that the defendant used force or fear with the intent to take property. Suppose the defendant and the alleged victim got into a bar fight. After winning the fight, the defendant seized the opportunity to take the alleged victim’s wallet. If the fight had nothing to do with the wallet, and the defendant did not form an intent to steal the wallet until after the fight was over, no robbery was committed.
Defense 7: The Defendant Did Not Intend to Keep the Property
Some defenses are based on the contention that the defendant did not intend to keep the property permanently or for a significant time. Taking someone’s car keys by force in order to drive the victim’s car around the block before returning the keys and the car to the victim is not a robbery because the defendant did not intend to deprive the victim permanently of the property’s use.
Defense 8: False Accusation
Some defenses deny that anything was taken from the alleged victim. A false accusation of robbery can arise from mistaken perceptions (the alleged victim lost his wallet and assumed that the defendant took it) or, more commonly, from a desire to make trouble for the defendant. Identifying the reason why the alleged victim would make a false accusation is the key to this defense.
Defense 9: Mistaken Identity
Some defenses acknowledge that a robbery occurred, but challenge the evidence that the defendant was involved. The defendant might be able to present alibi witnesses to prove that the defendant was elsewhere when the crime occurred. The defendant might also present expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identifications, particularly if the alleged victim did not know the defendant before the robbery took place.
Your Best Defense
Your best defense will turn on the facts that the prosecutor can prove, the facts that the prosecutor cannot prove, and the evidence that the accused can present to the jury. Contact the Law Offices of Randy Collins to discuss which of these robbery defenses, or a defense that is unique to your case, might help you avoid a robbery conviction.