Types of Robbery Charges: Varying Felony Classes

Robbery is almost always a felony because it’s considered a violent person offense.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated December 08, 2022

Robbery involves taking something of value (theft) from another person by using or threatening to use force or violence. In the movies and on television, robbers are professional criminals pointing assault weapons at bank tellers and carjacking people at gunpoint. While these scenarios describe robberies, under most states' laws, the crime of robbery covers a broad range of behavior that many people would consider much less serious. For example, a person who shoves a college student walking home from a bar and grabs the student's cell phone has committed robbery.

Read on to learn how states define and penalize robbery crimes.

What Is the Definition of Robbery?

Penalties for robbery differ by state, but the underlying elements of robbery are generally the same. Robbery is a theft:

  • from a victim's "person or presence"
  • with the use or threatened use of force or violence.

What Does It Mean to Steal From a Victim's "Person or Presence"?

Taking something from a victim's person or presence means that the stolen item was taken directly from the victim or an area within their control. So, physically taking an object out of the victim's hands can constitute robbery. But a robbery can also occur even when the person doesn't have physical contact with the victim.

For example, a person who steals a wallet out of a woman's purse that's hanging on the back of her restaurant seat has stolen from the victim's presence. A person who locks a store clerk in the breakroom in order to steal from the cash register also takes something from the victim's presence. On the flip side, a person who steals a bike from someone's front porch when no one is home has not stolen from the victim's person or presence—this person could be charged with theft (and possibly burglary) but not robbery.

What Counts as Use or Threats of Force or Violence?

Again, state law varies, but the following acts will usually fall under the definition of using or threatening to use force or violence:

  • using any physical force against the victim, such as striking or kicking
  • snatching the property away
  • intimidating, threatening, or coercing the victim, or
  • placing the victim in fear of serious and immediate bodily injury.

Knocking down a person or pulling something out of someone's hands are both examples of force, even if no injuries occur. When it comes to threats, the threat doesn't need to be true or explicitly stated. For example, robbing someone with a fake gun is still a threat of force. It's also a threat if someone motions to their coat pocket to indicate they have a weapon.

What Are the Degrees or Categories of Robbery Offenses?

In many states, robbery is divided into categories (such as first- and second-degree, or aggravated and simple), depending on the seriousness of the offense. Some states incorporate robbery offenses within other crimes, such as carjacking or robbing a pharmacy for drugs.

The most serious types of robbery include:

  • armed robberies committed with the use of a "deadly weapon," such as a gun, knife, or even an everyday object that can cause serious harm (like a brick or golf club)
  • carjackings (taking a vehicle from the driver by force or violence)
  • robberies committed during the course of a home invasion (residential burglary)
  • robberies resulting in bodily injuries
  • bank and pharmacy robberies, and
  • robberies committed against certain classes of people, such as taxicab drivers or vulnerable adults.

What Are the Penalties for Robbery?

All types of robberies are serious crimes and almost always a felony. The penalties for robbery often depend on the potential for harm.

Aggravated robbery. In terms of possible harm and penalties, aggravated robbery crimes are the most serious. These offenses generally involve a weapon, serious injury to a victim, a home invasion or carjacking, or a vulnerable victim. A person convicted of aggravated robbery could face 20 or more years in prison. Generally, the harshest penalties are reserved for robberies where the offender is actually armed or causes serious injuries to a victim.

Simple robbery. Simple robbery refers to a robbery committed without the above aggravating factors. These robberies don't carry the level of harm possible with aggravated robbery. But states still consider simple robbery a violent person offense. These offenses can still carry felony penalties upwards of five to 15 years' prison time.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you're charged with robbery, no matter what type, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can explain the legal process to you and determine the best course of action to follow depending on the charges against you, the law in your state, and how your case is likely to be treated by the local judge and prosecutor. An attorney can tell you if you are in a good position to get the charges reduced or dismissed, obtain a good plea bargain, or go to trial. With an attorney's help, you can protect your rights and hopefully obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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