Robbery is a serious felony offense. In Nevada, a robbery conviction can result in severe criminal penalties, including substantial prison time, even for first time offenders, even when the alleged victim is not injured. Read the information below to learn more about the elements of this offense and how to defend against a robbery charge.
In broad terms, a person commits robbery by taking another person's property using physical force or threats. However, there are many nuances that expand and refine the definition of robbery.
NRS 200.380 is Nevada's robbery statute. NRS 200.380(1) defines robbery as follows:
"Robbery is the unlawful taking of personal property from the person of another, or in the person's presence, against his or her will, by means of force or violence or fear of injury, immediate or future, to his or her person or property, or the person or property of a member of his or her family, or of anyone in his or her company at the time of the robbery."
This is a complicated definition with many "elements." Elements are particular facts that the prosecutor must prove before obtaining a conviction for any criminal charge. Every element must be proven for a conviction. Most of the elements of robbery are the same as common law larceny (theft). However, there are two additional elements that turn a larceny into a robbery. The first is that the property must be taken from the victim's person or in his presence. The second additional element is that force or the threat of force must be used. Read about these elements below.
(1) The property was taken from the victim's person or while the victim was present
There are two ways to meet the requirements of this element. NRS 200.380(1) states that to count as a robbery, property must be taken "from the person of another, or in the person's presence." Taking property "from the person of another" is simple. This means taking property off a person's body. This would include taking jewelry off a wrist, or a wallet out of someone's pocket.
Taking property "in the person's presence" is more complicated. This means, according to the Nevada Supreme Court, that the property is taken not while it is physically on the victim's body, but while the property is close enough so that the property is within the victim's "reach, inspection, observation or control," so that the victim "could, if not overcome by violence or prevented by fear, retain his possession of it." Mainly this applies in situations where someone is alleged to have robbed a commercial establishment like a supermarket or bar. The Nevada Supreme Court has held, for instance, that money in a cash register was taken "in the presence" of a bartender even though the bartender hid in the bathroom when the alleged robbers entered the bar.
(2) The property was taken using violence or fear of injury
Stealing someone's property alone doesn't constitute robbery unless the perpetrator uses physical force or the threat of force to take that property. So for example, taking someone's wallet without the victim's knowledge—pickpocketing—is not robbery. But physically beating a person and taking his wallet is robbery, as is threatening physical harm to that person if he does not give up his property. This is commonly referred to as a "mugging" and most people would recognize this as a robbery. However, with respect to the force or threat element, the definition of robbery is broader than muggings.
First, when threats are used to take property, they need not be threats of immediate harm. Threats of future harm to the victim qualify will count as a threat for the purposes of Nevada's robbery statute. So if someone threatens to beat up another person tomorrow if he doesn't pay up today, that counts as a robbery (provided the victim pays the money).
Second, to constitute a robbery, the harm can be threatened not just against the victim's physical body, but against his property as well. So if a person threatens to burn down his neighbor's house unless she pays him money, this counts as a robbery (if she actually pays the money).
Third, to constitute a robbery, the threats need not be made against the victim himself. The threats may be made against the victim's family or anyone else in the victim's "company" at the time of the robbery. This includes immediate or future harm and harm to property.
Fourth, to constitute a robbery, the force or threat may be used to take (or obtain) property, but also may involve the use of force to retain the stolen property or to allow the robber to get away from the scene. In a classic mugging situation, the robber takes property by using force. But a robbery also involves force if that force is used to "retain possession of the property" or "facilitate escape." So if a person shoplifts from a supermarket and runs toward the exit where he is confronted by a security guard, the person can be charged with robbery if he escapes from the store with the property by punching the security guard in the face.
Finally, under Nevada law, the force used does not need to be a great force to constitute robbery. A minor use of force is enough to constitute a robbery if that force is used "to compel acquiescence to the taking of or escaping with the property." Therefore, a minor push as well as a punch to the face may constitute a use of force under Nevada's robbery laws.
Robbery is a category B felony punishable by 2 to 15 years in prison. Under Nevada law, the judge must sentence a person convicted of a felony to a range of years, with the bottom number not exceeding 40% of the top number. Therefore, for a robbery, the minimum sentence in Nevada is 2 to 5 years, and the maximum sentence is 6 to 15 years. If the sentence is imposed rather than suspended, a person must serve the bottom number before becoming eligible for parole.
Robbery is a probationable felony, meaning that the judge may suspend the sentence and impose probation (if the defendant does not have a prior robbery conviction). However, in practice, many times a robbery conviction will result in a prison sentence in Nevada, even for a first offense. This is because robbery is considered a violent offense.
If a deadly weapon is used to commit a robbery, the potential punishment increases substantially. Specifically, under NRS 193.165, robbery with use of a deadly weapon is punishable by an additional 1 to 15 years in prison. This sentence must be imposed consecutively to the original sentence for the underlying robbery.
What is a deadly weapon? Under NRS 193.165, a "deadly weapon" is any object which, if used for its ordinary purpose, is likely to cause "substantial bodily harm or death." This would include a gun, because a gun, if used for its ordinary purpose, may cause substantial bodily harm. A deadly weapon may also be any object which is not inherently deadly but may cause substantial bodily harm or death given the way it is used under the circumstances. So if someone picks up a heavy rock and threatens someone with it and obtains property from the victim, the person has committed robbery with use of a deadly weapon.
Attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery are also serious offenses. Attempted robbery is a category B felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery is a category B felony punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison. To learn more about co-conspirator liability, click here.
A person can be convicted of a robbery if he aids or abets another person who commits a robbery. However, a person's "mere presence" at the scene of a robbery and his knowledge that a crime is being committed are not sufficient facts to establish aiding and abetting a robbery.
If you have been charged with robbery in Nevada, you should seek the help of a criminal defense lawyer. As stated above, robbery is a very serious charge that can often result in prison time if you are convicted. Defenses to robbery charges will vary with the facts, but will always depend upon attacking one or more of the essential elements of the offense. In general, a criminal defense attorney may argue that the element of force is missing, that the identity of the alleged perpetrator cannot be established, or that the accusation is entirely fabricated. Even if evidence against the accused appears strong, remember that the prosecutor's burden is heavy, and the charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. I have represented many individuals charged with robbery in Las Vegas and throughout southern Nevada. Call me now to discuss your case.
By Michael Pandullo