Robbery Laws in California – Penal Code 211 PC

The theft crime of robbery is described under California Penal Code 211. It's defined as the felonious taking of personal property in possession of another person, against their will, using force or fear. 

There are two types of robbery charges in California law, including first-degree and second-degree. The penalties if convicted, will depend on the type of charge and the specific circumstances of the robbery case. 

While Penal Code 211 robbery falls under a theft offense, it is different from other forms of theft because force or fear must be used to be criminally charged under this statute.

PC 211 robbery is always a felony crime and not the usual theft crime “wobbler” that can be later reduced to a misdemeanor offense.  Further, a robbery conviction could count as a “strike” under California's three-strikes law

Some sentencing enhancements significantly increase the robbery penalties, such as using a firearm in the commission of the crime. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will examine this law in greater detail below.

In prosecuting a PC 211 robbery case, the first question that must be answered is whether the robbery qualifies as a first or second-degree. A first-degree robbery occurs when any of the following circumstances apply:

  • The victim was inside an inhabited dwelling place of residence;
  • The victim was using or just completed using an automated teller machine (ATM);
  • The victim was a driver or passenger in a bus, taxi, or public transportation.

Thus, second-degree robbery includes all other forms of robbery.

What Must the Prosecutor Prove for a PC 211 Conviction?

If accused of robbery, the prosecution has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, several factors to secure a conviction. These are called the “elements of the crime” and listed under California Criminal Jury Instructions 1600 that you did all of the following acts:  

  • took possession of the property you didn't own;
  • property was in possession of another person;
  • took the property in the victim's immediate presence, against their will;
  • force to fear was used to take the property or to prevent resistance;
  • intent was to deprive the property owner permanently or long enough to deprive the owner of a portion of its value.

Readers should note that robbery offense only occurs when you take property directly from the victim or in their immediate presence within their control.

Robbery with a Gun

I have done a lot of robbery cases over the years in Los Angeles County, especially in the San Fernando Valley Courts like Van Nuys, Burbank, Glendale, and Valencia.  But mainly where I'm seeing many of these robbery cases being filed in the San Fernando Court because they control most of the territory in the Valley. Robbery charges are defined under California Penal Code 211 as: 

  • “the felonious taking of personal property in possession of another, from the person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished using force or fear.”

How these cases are handled is that they will look at what happened in the robbery.  Robbery is a pretty broad umbrella (CALCRIM 1600).  You could have your traditional robbery where somebody goes into a store with a gun, points the gun at people, and demands goods or money or whatever else they're in there to get.

That scenario is probably the worse type of robbery, and that is going to be handled in a very serious manner because you've got the gun combined with taking people's stuff and risk people's lives, so you're in a position where the authorities — the prosecutor, the judge and even the police to a degree — are going to be very harsh in dealing with that type of robbery offense.

What they have done throughout probably since 2008/2009, they passed that 10-year gun law, which means if you commit a robbery with a gun, they're going to add ten years to your sentence just for the gun alone. That does not include the robbery, which could get you an additional six years.  So, you're looking at 16 years for a robbery case when you use a gun.  So, that's probably the most severe robbery.

Then you go to the other extreme where somebody goes into a store, steals some food, runs out of the store, and then is chased by the clerk or the security at the store —  like at a Ralph's, for example — and in their escape the person says, give us back that food, and they say, get away from me.

Penal Code 211 Robbery Cases in Los Angeles

I'll kill you, or they use some weapon or some force — maybe they punched somebody or pushed somebody — now you have what's called an Estes Robbery.  The person didn't even use a gun or a weapon, and really when they took the stuff, they didn't use any force.

They just grabbed it and ran out.  But the force was used during the escape.  Unfortunately, that's still a robbery, but I would put that as a lower-grade robbery. Often in those types of robberies, we can get something less than a theft — maybe a grand theft person or some theft-related offense, depending on the circumstances and what you did.  Did you hurt anybody?

Did you use a weapon in your escape?  What was the tussle all about?  How serious?  How dangerous was it?  That's going to determine whether they're going to mitigate that robbery or do you have any other robberies or burglaries on your criminal record.

Strong-Arm Robbery

Then you have other types of robberies that I would characterize as strong-arm robberies.  Maybe you're walking on the street; you threaten somebody to give me your phone and money. That is kind of a middle-of-the-road robbery that will still be treated seriously.  It is still a robbery, but if nobody gets hurt and you didn't use a weapon in that robbery, you're in the middle zone there and still can avoid a robbery charge.

People might ask why it is essential to avoid a robbery, and the answer is that a robbery is a strike.  A robbery is a violent felony.  So, if you plead guilty to theft, you'd have a strike on your record.  And jail or prison time you serve will be served at 85%.  So, those are two big problems you don't want to deal with.

That's another thing when you're talking about robbery — whether it be either a low-grade, a middle-grade, or a high-grade — usually, the prosecutor's position on robberies is they're sending the person to prison because they don't feel that person deserves to get probation. That person is a danger to the community.  They're committing serious crimes, so they will want to send that person to prison.  So, if you don't want to go to jail, you want to try to avoid a robbery conviction.

Armed Robbery Charges

I've been defending robbery charges under California Penal Code 211 PC now in Los Angeles for the past 27 years. This is a very serious crime because it's a strike. Anybody convicted of this particular crime will serve 85% of their sentence, whether a jail sentence or a prison sentence.  Nobody wants to have a strike on their record for the rest of their life.

So, if you or a loved one is charged with robbery, come and sit down with me.  Let's talk about what we can do to mitigate the circumstances. Either we're going to have to fight the case, or we'll have to get you a lesser charge.  Nobody wants a robbery conviction. 

Sometimes we're in the scenario where we're trying to keep you out of prison, so it just depends on where you are with your life, where you are with your criminal record, and exactly what happened.

If you're charged with robbery and a weapon was used, like a gun or a knife, they will treat that much more seriously than a strongarm robbery. The central courts prosecuting these robbery cases are San Fernando Court and Van Nuys Court, just five minutes from my office.

Defending Armed Robbery Charges in California

So, we have to see which courthouse we're in to decide on precisely what type of defense strategy we're going to employ.

We also need to see where you are.  Is it a situation where:

  • we're trying to get that not guilty verdict because there's a weak case filed against you and you're innocent, or
  • they've got the evidence against you, and we've got to do mitigation.

We've got to do damage control.  So, first, we have to see where we are, then we can decide exactly how we're going to attack your criminal case in Los Angeles.

Review of Evidence to Determine Best Defense Strategy

I've been doing this for a long time.  I've worked for the DA's office. I've worked for a Superior Court Judge, and I've been a criminal defense attorney defending robbery cases in the San Fernando Valley now for the past 27 years:

  • I know what it takes to win;
  • I know what it takes to mitigate a case.

We need to have you come into my office and sit down in private and talk about where you are with your case. We must have to defend you properly and get you the result you need and precisely the best strategy for you.

That' snot always an easy decision.  It depends on several different factors. The critical thing is that you've got a defense attorney who will fight for you, be honest with you and tell you exactly where you stand if you're charged with a robbery case in the San Fernando Valley.

Elements of a Penal Code 211 Robbery Crime

To prove a robbery case in the Valley, or any other courthouse in Los Angeles County, the prosecutors are going to need to prove that:

  • you took somebody's property, and
  • that when you took that property, you used force or violence.

That's what they need.  Sometimes someone can come up and snatch somebody's chain off their neck, which can be a robbery.

Other times, somebody can use a gun or a knife to take another person's property away. So, we've got to look at the circumstances of your case and what evidence the prosecutors have to attempt to prove the case. I'm very good at assessing whether or not it's a good or a weak case against you.

What Are the Penalties for Robbery?

The crime of robbery is more prevalent these days as people are being caught on a video camera, and police are obtaining licenses and tracking the vehicle down.  They will go to great lengths to track robbers down in LA county because it is a grave crime on the political radar.

Penalties for Robbery in California

Regarding what someone is facing if they're charged with robbery, the charge range is 2, 4, and 6 years in state prison.  It is a presumptive prison crime. In LA, prosecutors and judges assume that someone will be sent to jail if charged with robbery unless their attorney can show unusual circumstances surrounding the theft. 

One example of unusual circumstances that I've been successful with is an Estes robbery, where someone is stealing from a store, and they're not using any force or fear at the time of the stealing, but the force or fear is being used in their escape. 

If that occurs, they could still be charged with robbery. Still, many times, especially if they have no criminal record, no weapon was used, or nobody was hurt – we can convince the prosecutors and judges to lessen that crime to something less than a robbery.

You typically face a prison term of 6 years on an average robbery charge.  There are other enhancements, though, that goes hand-in-hand with robbery.  For example:

  • if you use a gun during a robbery, you could be facing an additional ten years in prison.  This is Penal Code 12022.53 “10-20-life use a gun, and you're done.”
  • if you are a gang member, you could be facing an additional ten years on top of that if you use a gun and are a gang member and commit a robbery. This is Penal Code 186.22 PC gang enhancement.
  • If the victim sustained a great bodily injury during the commission of the robbery crime, you could be facing an additional six years in prison as defined by California Penal Code 12022.7, great physical injury enhancement.

Of course, there is a new Los Angeles District Attorney as I write this post that has vowed to strike gun and gang enhancements in crimes like robbery.  In some of these cases, this is happening; it's not happening in some cases. 

What you see happening, at least from my perspective, is that even though policies are being instituted, prosecutors, underneath the head prosecutor, often do not carry out his directives. 

Negotiation for a Lesser Charge of PC 487 Grand Theft

The more evidence they have, the more likely we will have to take some negotiated plea.  The less evidence they have, the better position we are to get a not guilty verdict. Then there are those cases in between.  Often, I'm trying to avoid a robbery conviction for a young defendant, for example, who has no criminal records.

Also, nobody was hurt, and no gun was used; many times, we can get Penal Code Section 487c, which is grand theft person.  That's much better than a robbery. It's not a strike.  It can be reduced to a misdemeanor at some point, and you're typically not going to be sent to prison for something like that.  So, let's talk about your circumstances.

Is It Possible to Get Robbery Charges Reduced?

If you're charged with robbery, you may get a probation sentence if your attorney can convince the prosecutors to lessen the charge or even persuade a judge to lessen the charge.

Getting Robbery Charges Reduced to a Lesser Crime

Some of the factors being used are that you don't have any prior robberies or prior strikes on your record.  Also, if you did not use a gun, that would undoubtedly be a factor in your favor. 

If you didn't use any weapon, that would be a factor in your favor.  So, it just depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case whether or not you're facing prison time versus a probation sentence where you could be facing anywhere from no time in jail up to a year in the county jail. 

Other penalties are possible, like Cal Trans, community service, and probation, where you have to report to the probation department.  Sometimes you can get a joint suspended, where prison time is suspended over your head. 

You're placed on probation with specific terms and conditions.  As long as you don't violate those terms and conditions, you wouldn't get whatever prison sentence is over your head.

What Are the Related Crimes?

  • Penal Code 215 PC – carjacking,
  • Penal Code 487 PC – grand theft,
  • Penal Code 484 PC – petty theft,
  • Penal Code 207 PC – kidnapping,
  • Penal Code 459 PC – burglary.

Real PC 211 Robbery Case Example in Los Angeles, CA 

When it comes to robberies, you'll want to have some good strategies to defend the case. One result that I had that emphasizes some of the methods utilized is that I had a client charged with robbery under California Penal Code 211.

It was a situation where multiple robberies were occurring, and the police had used a sketch artist of the alleged robber. Ultimately, my client ended up getting arrested and charged with the robbery in the San Fernando Valley. He was charged with like five robberies. Whoever this individual was committing these robberies was picking the same type of store and committing the robberies. Somehow somebody was identifying my client as the robber.

One of the biggest problems for the prosecutors in the case was that the robber had — according to all of the witnesses — a tattoo on his neck, and my client did not have a tattoo on his neck. This is just an example of why, if he doesn't have a tattoo on his neck, would the prosecutors prosecute this case?

That was the chief piece of evidence. It kept coming up repeatedly as I cross-examined the witness and pointed out that my client had no tattoo on his neck. It made no sense that a robber would paint a tattoo on their neck to commit robberies. So, ultimately, this case was done in front of a jury. It didn't even get to the jury. Before the case got to the jury, the judge dismissed the case.

So, sometimes the prosecutors file a case, and the police arrest somebody, and they don't have good evidence in a case. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the person gets off. I have many clients yelling and screaming, and I hear a lot of people yelling and screaming that they're innocent.

There's no way I should get convicted. The reality is that you could get convicted. If a jury finds you guilty, you're going to get convicted. The only thing that will separate whether you will be found guilty or not guilty is your criminal lawyer.

Seeking a Lesser Charge to Robbery

In a robbery situation, we're probably going to be trying to get another charge other than a robbery, like a grand theft person — which is not a strike. You don't have to do it 85% of the time. You're usually not looking at the prison for that type of crime. Because for robbery cases, you're looking at the prison and getting a strike on your record. You're looking at serving 85% of the time. No one wants to have a robbery conviction on their record for the rest of their life.

So, even if you have to take a robbery conviction, you don't want to go to prison for six years, and if there's a weapon used, that makes things even worse. We've got some great results in robbery cases, whether trying or winning it.

Suppose that's appropriate and makes sense under your circumstances because there are problems with the prosecutor's case. Suppose, on the other hand; it doesn't make sense. In that case, we will try to negotiate a favorable resolution for you, taking into account your life, family, history, and version of events related to the case.

Negotiation with Prosecutor for Best Outcome

That's one of the big things I do for a mitigation package that I will send to the prosecutors before meeting with the head prosecutor to convince him to get rid of the robbery. Sometimes you have a defense to the case, but you don't have a defense. We can't attack the witnesses and try and prove that you're not guilty, then we have to get that mitigation to the Valley prosecutors and try to convince him to give you something other than a robbery because that causes a chain reaction.

If you don't get a robbery, you're probably not going to prison.  Maybe we can even keep you out of county jail if you're not going to prison.  Even if you get county jail time in today's county system, you're serving a tiny percentage of the time you call.

If you've got a robbery case in any Los Angeles Court, pick up the phone.  I've been doing this for 26 years.  I enjoy what I do.  I enjoy helping people. Sometimes people have reasons why they get themselves wrapped up in a robbery case, and it's going to be my job to try to unwrap you and get you out of the criminal justice system as fast as possible. 

What Are the Best Defenses for Penal Code 211?

There is a wide range of legal defenses to challenge California Penal Code 211 robbery charges, including:

  • You didn't use force or fear to take possession of the property.
  • Insufficient Evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,
  • False accusation,
  • Mistaken identity.

The use of force or fear is often a crucial factor in robbery cases. If the prosecutor can't prove this essential point, you can't be found guilty of robbery but might still face reduced charges with lesser penalties.

Best Defenses for Penal Code 211 Robbery

Perhaps we can make a reasonable argument that force or fear was not used to take possession of someone's property. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, or your actions were misinterpreted.  Perhaps you are the victim of mistaken identity and were wrongfully arrested. Maybe the accuser was motivated by anger, revenge, or jealousy.

Negotiating with the prosecutor for reduced charges or a case dismissal might be possible. Further, through prefiling negotiations with law enforcement detectives and the filing deputies in the District Attorney's Office, we might be able to persuade them to file formal criminal charges in the first place, called a “DA reject.”

If you or a family member were charged with the serious felony offense of robbery, contact our experienced legal team to review the details and legal options.

So, you have to get somebody who knows what they're doing, has been down this road before, has had success, and has had wins in a robbery case. What I have you do in these robbery charges, I have you come in. We sit down, and we talk about it. The consequences of a robbery conviction can be severe.

We look at the evidence that the prosecutors are claiming they have against you, and we decide whether or not this is a case worth fighting or this is a case where we need to work out some plea bargain. That often happens in criminal defense where the prosecutors have the goods on the person, and we're doing damage control.

You've come to the right place if you or a loved one is charged with robbery in Los Angeles County.  Pick up the phone.  Make the call.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I've been defending people like you for 30 years. The Hedding Law Firm offers a free case consultation by phone at (213) 542-0979 or by filling out the contact form.

Related Content: