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Robbery Laws in California - Penal Code Section 211

The Crime of Robbery in California - Penal Code 211

California Penal Code Section 211 defines the serious felony offense of robbery. Robbery is the taking of personal property from another individual without permission when the taking happens in their immediate presence against their will, and when the taking is accomplished by means of force or fear. 

The punishment for robbery under California law depends on whether the robbery is of the first or second degree, discussed below, and on the specific circumstances of the robbery. 

Robbery is always a felony under California law. It is not a “wobbler” offense which can later be reduced to a misdemeanor. 

In most cases, a robbery conviction will also qualify as a “strike” under California's three-strikes law

Certain sentencing enhancements may dramatically increase the punishment for robbery, such as use of a firearm, but these enhancements are outside the scope of this discussion.

Based on the specific circumstances of the case, there are a wide of defenses than can be used against Penal Code 211 robbery charges. For example, perhaps we could make an argument that no force or fear was used to take the property

For purposes of this article, we assume the alleged robber was unarmed and that no one was injured during the course of the robbery.

To give readers a better understanding on PC 211 robbery charges, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.

What Must the Prosecutor Prove in a PC 211 Robbery Case?

The first question in a robbery prosecution is whether the robbery is of the first or the second degree. 

A first-degree robbery occurs when the victim is the driver or passenger in a bus, taxi, or other mode of public transportation, when the victim is inside any inhabited dwelling place or residence, or when the victim is using or has just finished using an ATM. Second-degree robbery covers all other forms of robbery.

In order for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction for Penal Code 211 robbery, they must be able to prove all the elements of the crime listed in CALCRIM 1600 Jury Instructions:

  • You took property that belonged to someone else
  • The property was in possession of the other person or immediate presence
  • The property was taken against their will
  • You used force or fear to take the property or to prevent resisting
  • You had intent to deprive owner of property permanently, or
  • An extended period of time to deprive owner value of property

It should be noted that you “take” something the moment you obtain possession and moves it to another place, even if it's just a short distance.

Penalties for Penal Code 211 Robbery

The penalty for second-degree robbery is either two, three, or five years in the California state prison. California law further distinguishes between forms of first-degree robbery for sentencing purposes. 

If the first-degree robbery occurred within an occupied dwelling and was committed by the defendant in concert with at least two other individuals (i.e. a home invasion), the penalties include three, six, or nine years in California state prison. 

Other first-degree robberies are punishable by three, four, or six years in California state prison. 

In an appropriate case, a judge has discretion to impose felony probation in lieu of prison time for a robbery case. 

As a condition of felony probation, the judge may require the defendant to serve up to a year in the county jail as well as comply with other appropriate conditions such as performance of community labor/Caltrans hours.

If the victim sustained a great bodily injury, then you could face up to 6 additional years in prison under California Penal Code 12022.7, great bodily injury enhancement.

Use of Force or Fear in PC 211 Robbery Cases

Regardless of which degree of robbery is charged, the elements remain the same. The important distinguishing feature of robbery, as opposed to other forms of theft, is the employment of force or fear by the defendant. 

A simple hypothetical will make the distinction clear. Suppose the victim places his backpack next to him on a park bench and drifts off to sleep.

The defendant notices the backpack and very quietly sneaks up removes some items from the backpack without disturbing the victim. 

The defendant is certainly guilty of theft, either petite or grand depending on the value of the items taken, but not of robbery. 

Even though the backpack was in the immediate vicinity of the victim, the defendant employed neither force nor fear. He simply employed stealth. 

Now imagine the same scenario but the victim is awake. The defendant still decides to make a move for the backpack, but this time the victim notices and objects.

The defendant tells the victim that if he doesn't give up the backpack, the defendant will punch him in the face. Believing the threat, the victim allows the defendant to steal the backpack. 

The defendant in the second scenario is guilty of robbery in the second degree. Even though he did not harm the victim or even employ any appreciable amount of force, he employed fear (the threat of punching the victim) to accomplish the theft of the backpack.

Related California Offenses for PC 211 Robbery

Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft

Penal Code 484 – Petty Theft

Penal Code 215 – Carjacking

Penal Code 207 – Kidnapping

Penal Code 459 – Burglary

Penal Code 518 - Extortion

Fighting Penal Code 211 Robbery Charges

Defenses to robbery include misidentification, lack of force or fear being used by the defendant, lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and false allegation. 

Return to our scenario with the backpack on the park bench. At trial, the defendant through his attorney may cross-examine the victim about the exact series of events which played out in the park. 

The defendant might argue that the victim is fabricating the supposed threat made by the defendant and this is in fact a simple case of larceny.

If you, or someone you know, is charged with the serious felony offense of robbery pursuant to California Penal Code Section 211, contact our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation. 

We can advise you on the steps to take to maximize the chances of a successful outcome in your case.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact us for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.

We speak English, Russian, Armenian, and Spanish.

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