Robbery is essentially larceny plus force. In order for a defendant to be convicted of robbery, the prosecution must prove all of the elements of larceny plus two additional elements: First, that the property was taken from either the victim’s person or presence and, second, that the taking was accomplished either by violence or by the threat of violence. Property is considered to be in the victim’s "presence" if it is close enough to the victim so that it is within his control to the extent that he could have prevented the taking had it not been for the defendant’s use of violence or threat of violence. Note that the requirement of "violence" does not mean that there has to be an injury or even physical contact involved. The grabbing of an object from the hand of the victim and running with it is considered to be a "forceful" or "violent" act for robbery purposes even if there was no struggle. For example:
EXAMPLE (1): Angie is sitting on a park bench with her purse sitting on her lap with her hands over the purse. Jason comes along, grabs the purse, yanks it away from Angie and starts running. In this case Jason has taken the property from Angie’s presence with force or violence.
EXAMPLE (2): Angie is sitting on a park bench with her purse right next to her. She gets up and walks about thirty feet to where her daughter is playing on a jungle gym. When Angie leaves, Jason grabs her purse and begins running. In this case, Jason has not taken the purse from Angie’s presence because it was not close enough to Angie so that Angie could have prevented its taking.
As we said before, the taking of the property must be accomplished by violence or the threat of violence. Any act of violence, no matter how minor, that is used to obtain the property qualifies. For example:
EXAMPLE (1): Angie is sitting on a park bench with her purse sitting next to her. Jason walks by, grabs the purse and runs. In this case, although Jason has taken the purse from Angie’s presence he has not used any force or violence with which to get it. Therefore he cannot be convicted of robbery.
EXAMPLE (2): Angie is sitting on a park bench with her purse next to her. Jason runs up, pushes Angie out of the way, grabs the purse and starts running. In this case, Jason has taken the purse from Angie’s presence and he has used force to get the purse. Therefore, Jason can be convicted of robbery.
Please note that pickpockets can usually only be convicted for larceny because slipping something out of someone’s pocket does not constitute the use of force or violence. However, in situations where a victim is clutching something, and that object is grabbed out of his or her hand so that his or her hand is jerked open, or a chain snatching, where the defendant uses force to tear something off of the victim’s body, there can be a conviction for robbery.
Further, as we said before, the defendant can be convicted of robbery even if he did not actually use force against the victim. It is enough to obtain a conviction to show that the defendant obtained the property through the mere threat of force as well.
However, in these situations, the prosecution must show several things. First, the prosecutor must show that the victim was actually placed in fear of force or violence.
Second, the prosecutor must show that the victim’s fear was the result of the defendant’s threats.
Third, the prosecution must show that the victim’s fear was reasonable. That is to say, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions were of such a nature that they would have put a reasonable person in fear of being imminently subjected to force or violence.
Fourth, the prosecution must show that the defendant threatened the victim with death, bodily injury or the destruction of the victim’s dwelling. These threats need not be made against the victim himself, however. They are adequate if they are made against the victim, a member of the victim’s immediate family, any other relative of the victim or anyone in the victim’s presence. See
Fifth, the prosecution must show that the threatened harm was imminent. A threat to harm the victim in the future is not enough to sustain a robbery conviction.
Finally, the prosecution must show that the force or threat of force was used to actually take the property. The prosecution must show that the violence or threats happened either before or during the taking of the property. Any violence or threats inflicted after the defendant has taken the property do not fulfill the requirement for robbery because it was not the method by which the defendant took the victim's property.
The Model Penal Code has eliminated the requirement that force or the threat of force be used to actually take the property. According to the Model Penal Code, as long as force or the threat of force is used in the course of committing a theft, the defendant can be convicted for robbery. For example:
One day, while Will is at work, Grace decides to rob Will’s house. Grace rents a U-hall truck and drives it over to Will’s house and begins to empty the contents of the house into the truck. Grace is almost finished loading up the truck when Will comes home and sees Grace leaving the house. Will goes over to confront Grace, at which point, Grace punches Will in the face, jumps into the truck and drives away. According to the common law, Grace could not be convicted of robbery because, although she did use force on Will, she used the force after she had already taken the property. However, according to the Model Penal Code, Grace can be convicted of robbery because she used the force in the course of committing the theft. See
State v. Mirault, 457 A.2d 455 (N.J. 1983).
As we said before, in addition to proving that the defendant took the property from the victim’s presence and with the use of force or threats of force, the prosecution must prove all of the elements of larceny. Since larceny is the unlawful taking of the property of another with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the property, the defendant cannot be convicted of robbery, even if he used force to take the property, if, when he took the property, he either did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of it or he honestly believed that he was entitled to it.
Finally, at common law, robbery was a felony, regardless of the value of the property taken, and it remains so under modern statutes. However, modern statutes do distinguish between ordinary robbery and aggravated robbery, based on the circumstances involved. Aggravated robbery (e.g., robbery using a weapon) results in harsher penalties than does ordinary robbery.