Understanding the Minimum Requirement of “Forcible Stealing” in a New York Robbery Arrest and Prosecution

Robbery is one of the most serious crimes in the New York Penal Law. Criminal defense attorneys in New York see Robbery crimes come in a variety of different scenarios and allegations. Sometimes a weapon is used such as a firearm or a knife while other times a victim suffers some form of a physical or serious physical injury. Depending on whether or not there is an injury and even if multiple robbers are involved, the crime of Robbery can elevate from Robbery in the Third Degree to Robbery in the Second Degree or Robbery in the First Degree. The consequences are quite serious for an accused because a Third Degree Robbery conviction for PL 160.05 is not a violent crime under the New York Penal Law and does not carry a mandatory term of prison for a first time offender. Second Degree Robbery and First Degree Robbery, pursuant to PL 160.10 and PL 160.15 respectively, are mandatory minimum crimes with sentences starting at three and one half and five years in prison.

The goal of this blog entry is not to dissect and analyze the differences between New York’s Robbery statutes, but to examine the threshold of physical force that must be breached for a crime to go from one of a simple non-violent larceny to a more grave Robbery offense.

People v. Green, 2016 NY Slip Op 5674 (3rd Dept. 2016) makes it overwhelmingly clear that what the average person thinks of Robbery is likely not what prosecutors, criminal lawyers or judges encounter in New York. In other words, you need not be a comic book villain wearing a ski mask and armed with a big ‘ole revolver as you threaten to shoot a old lady who ultimately gives you her pocketbook. For that matter, whether you wear that mask and are armed with the firearm or not, even if you never strike, punch, pistol whip or shoot your intended target, you can still find yourself charged with one of the three degrees of Robbery in New York.

In Green, the defendant was convicted after a trial charging Robbery in the Third Degree. The conduct he later challenged on appeal was whether the victim’s testimony that he ripped a plastic bag containing $9,000 off the victim’s wrist and did so forcefully as a matter of law satisfied the legal elements of PL 160.05. More specifically, that in tearing away the plastic bag from the complainant’s wrist and pushing him, the evidence established that he “forcibly stole property.”

In confirming the legality of the conviction, the Court got right to the point (and you should pay attention!). The ripping of plastic handles and pushing of a victim meets the legal burden of Robbery. What says you?! That’s right. The ski mask wearing man who wrestles a young boy to the ground to steal his iPhone at 12:00 am on a subway platform is no less guilty of Third Degree Robbery than the stupid kid who walks out of a bar and threatens to punch out another patron if he doesn’t give him $20. Remember, PL 160.00 defines Robbery regardless of its degree as a “forcib[e] steal[ing] [of] property and…in the course of committing a larceny, [that person] uses or threatens the immediate use of physical force upon another…” Commit this offense with another person or cause a bloody lip and black eye, then your crime becomes a Second Degree Robbery. Armed with a firearm or cause a serious physical injury? Now you have jacked up the crime to Robbery in the First Degree.

The “take home” from Green is a warning. Not that anyone would advocate committing a crime, but its one thing to shoplift or even steal from an office. Its another to lift a pocket book or wallet from a person at a bar or restaurant. However, as soon as you use physical force in a larceny or theft from another person, you have elevated your behavior to a Robbery and potentially a violent crime with mandatory prison facing you on the other side of your criminal case.

To find out more about Robbery crimes in New York and the three degrees the District Attorney can prosecute, follow the links here and review the websites and blogs below.

Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense law firm representing clients throughout New York City and the suburban counties in violent and white collar crimes. Both Elizabeth Crotty and Jeremy Saland served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prior to founding the law firm.

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