Written by attorney David Jon Pullman

California: Robbery


Robbery is defined in Penal Code section 211 as the taking of another’s property from their person or immediate presence by means of force or fear. The value of the property is irrelevant; it can be something as insignificant as a cigarette or a piece of food. The fear of harm in a robbery can be to the person or property of the victim, any relative of the victim, or anyone in the company of the victim. Even forcing a slight movement of someone’s property can be considered a robbery, if the intent to steal the property was there. A robbery is considered ongoing until the robber has either been caught or has reached a place of safety. For this reason, many simple incidents of theft are charged as robberies, when the perpetrator struggles with the owner after getting caught stealing. Robbery is considered to be a serious and violent offense and is a strike, under California’s Three Strikes law.

Degrees of Robbery and Punishment

Penal Code section 212.5 divides robbery into first and second degree. A first-degree robbery is a robbery of a driver or passenger of a form of public transportation or transportation for hire, a robbery that takes place within an inhabited home, or a robbery of someone at an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). All other robberies are second-degree. Under Penal Code section 215, a carjacking is a robbery of someone’s car.

Under Penal Code section 213, first-degree robberies of an inhabited home when there are three or more robbers working together is punishable by three, six, or nine years in prison. All other first-degree robberies are punishable by three, four, or six years. Second-degree robberies are punishable by two, three, or five years. Carjacking is punishable by three, five, or nine years. If there are multiple victims to the robbery, you can be punished as if there was a separate robbery for each victim.

There are many factors that can increase the base sentence for a robbery. Under Penal Code section 12022.7, if, during the commission of a robbery, you cause another person, other than an accomplice, to suffer great bodily injury, you will be sentenced to an additional three to six years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and the extent of the injuries. Under Penal Code section 12022.53, if you use a gun during the perpetration of a robbery, you are subject to a sentencing enhancement or ten additional years in prison. If you intentionally fire the gun, during the robbery, the enhancement is twenty years. If you actually wound someone by firing the gun, it is an additional 25 years in prison. If the robbery is found to be for the benefit of a criminal street gang, you face an additional ten years in prison, under Penal Code section 186.22.


Misidentification – The most common defense to robbery is that the defendant was wrongfully identified as the robber. Often robbers wear something to mask or disguise their appearance. There may be the problem of a cross-racial identification or an overly suggestive police line-up. Casting doubt on the identity of the robber can result in beating robbery charges.

Lack of Intent – Sometimes the circumstances are such that it can be argued that the defendant had no intention of stealing the property at the time it came into his or her possession. Perhaps the defendant only accidentally came into possession of the property and only later decided to keep it. In such cases there has been no robbery.

Right to Property – You are not guilty of robbery if you use force or fear to retrieve property that you honestly believe is rightfully yours. This is true, even if your believe that the property is rightfully yours is mistaken or unreasonable.

False Accusation – Sometimes an alleged robbery victim falsely accuses a defendant of robbing them out of malicious intent to harm the defendant or because they have either lost or spent money or property that belonged to somebody else and are now claiming that they were robbed.

Regardless of the particular facts of the case, robbery is a very serious charge and needs to be fought thoroughly, aggressively, and creatively. I will work tirelessly to beat any robbery charges, wherever possible and, when the facts of the case are undeniable, I will work to plead the case down to a lesser offense. When you are charged with a serious offense, like robbery, it is absolutely essential to have a lawyer, such as myself, who is completely dedicated to helping his clients in every case.

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