Robbery is one of the most common theft crimes in Virginia. This offense is always a felony, punishable by a minimum of five (5) years in prison. Virginia Criminal Attorney specializes in criminal defense for people charged with robbery or any other property crimes. We serve clients in Fairfax, VA and the whole of Northern Virginia.
Legal Definition of Robbery in Virginia
Robbery is defined under Virginia Code 18.2-58 as the act of taking an item or property that does not belong to you, by use of violence (force) or intimidation, and with the view of depriving the owner of the property’s ownership permanently.
Robbery is a severer offense than most theft and property crimes since it involves the use of threats to the victim or violently taking his or her property. In most cases, the perpetrator may strangle, suffocate, or use a deadly weapon against the victim to accomplish the robbery. Because of the severity of the crime, robbery carries harsh penalties, including a maximum of life imprisonment. Also, a robbery conviction remains in a person's criminal record forever. Since robbery is a crime that involves violence, robbers are highly disregarded in society and may also have difficulties in getting employed.
Elements of the Crime of Robbery
For a crime to be regarded as a robbery, there are certain elements which must be present. They include:
Taking the property
Taking property from someone else means that you gained possession of the property and moved it to a given distance – even if the distance is short. The ‘taking’ must be for a permanent intent, meaning that you deprived the victim of using the property or reaping its benefits.
The property belongs to another person
It should also be confirmed that the property in question was the alleged victim's personal belongings or property. However, it is not a must that the alleged victim is the owner so long as he or she was in possession of the item during the robbery incident. Additionally, an item belonging to someone does not necessarily mean that the person is physically holding it – a person may constructively possess said item (meaning that he or she can have its control).
Taking from a person or from his/her presence
For a crime to qualify as a robbery, you must have taken the property from the victim’s possession by use of physical force. If during the incident, the victim had no actual physical control over the item but was in close proximity to exert control, it is termed as taking the item ‘from their presence’ or in their immediate presence.
Taking the property against their will
According to the robbery statute, "against someone’s will" means that the victim did not give away the property with his or her consent. The consent must be given willingly by the victim; this means that it is given freely without being threatened. This also implies that the victim was in a position to understand the purpose of giving the consent.
Presence of force, violence, or intimidation.
Use of force differentiates the crime of robbery from other offenses like shoplifting. The perpetrator uses physical force or violence with the intention of hurting the victim. Use of force imposes fear on the victim as he or she would be scared of incurring injuries or dying. The use of force may include suffocating, striking, partial strangling, hitting, or any other form of assault towards the victim. Also, the use of a deadly weapon like a gun puts the victim in fear that can make them surrender their property.
Categories of Robbery
Robbery can be categorized into two different groups (degrees) depending on the number of factors and strength of the evidence put forward by the prosecution.
The prosecutor will charge you with first-degree robbery if you used extreme force against the person/alleged victim or threatened him or her with a deadly weapon such as a firearm. The victim may have been in his/her residence or working place. Depending on the number of victims involved and your criminal history, you face a minimum of ten (10) years and a maximum of life imprisonment.
You could face charges of robbery in the second degree if you subjected the victim to fear of suffering bodily injury. This charge also applies if you used drugs or electric shock to disable the victim. This form of robbery is less severe compared to the first form of robbery, and the minimum sentence is five (5) years in prison.
Criminal Charges Related to Robbery in Virginia
There exist some criminal offenses in Virginia which an individual can be charged with alongside or instead of robbery charges. Most of these crimes fall under theft crimes and involve taking items without the consent of the owner. Still, there are other crimes against a person that you can face alongside robbery charges or as alternatives to robbery charges: strangulation, malicious wounding, unlawful wounding, and aggravated malicious wounding.
This is a specific type of robbery that is more severe than the usual form of robbery. This occurs when you use a weapon that may cause an injury or death during the robbery. Such weapons include a firearm, shotgun, knife, and pistol. Also, if the prosecutor claims that you had a weapon during the robbery, even if you never used the alleged weapon, you still face charges for armed robbery. In most cases, though, there must be evidence that a firearm was discharged and caused severe bodily wounds, permanent disability, disfigurement or even death for you to get a robbery conviction.
Armed robbery, under Virginia Code 18.2-53.1, is a felony whose penalties include a mandatory minimum of five (5) years in prison for engaging in robbery and another compulsory minimum of three (3) years imprisonment for using a firearm to commit the robbery. Thus, you can serve a minimum sentence of eight (8) years if convicted of armed robbery. Depending on the level of injuries caused by the weapon used, one can face life imprisonment. Usually, the addition of your sentence depends on the type of firearm or weapon used. The harshest penalties, such as the death sentence or life imprisonment, are usually administered if the victim died, is a minor, incurred massive injuries, or you are facing different offenses involving the use of a gun.
Carjacking is a form of robbery that involves intentional seizure or control of another person’s vehicle with a view of possessing or taking it from him or her temporarily or permanently. Similar to the usual cases of robberies, a carjacker may commission the act by suffocating, partial strangulation, beating the car owner, or any violence or force. It may also involve the use of fear (by the presentation of weapons) or threatening them.
If the prosecutor has sufficient evidence for a carjacking offense, specifically that the robbed item is a vehicle, you may face charges for both robbery and carjacking. Also, you may face additional charges for armed robbery if you unleashed a weapon during the incident. Carjacking is a felony. It carries a penalty of fifteen (15) years to life imprisonment.
Since a carjacking offense carries a more stringent minimum penalty than the minimum sentence of ordinary robbery, it is usually common for carjacking defendants to seek a reduction of their charges to robbery. This would require the input of an experienced property crime defense attorney since it is hard to refute clear evidence of carjacking if you are found in possession of the vehicle.
Unlawful Wounding and Malicious Wounding
Under Virginia Code 18.2-51, unlawful wounding is an offense committed when one shoots, stabs, cuts, or even wounds someone or causes the person any bodily injury unlawfully with a view of disabling, maiming, killing or even disfiguring him or her. In the act of the robbery, a perpetrator may have shot or injured the victim to prevent him or her from chasing them after the crime. Wounding may also occur if the victim tried to stop the robber from taking the items. This offense is a class six (6) felony whose maximum punishments include a five (5) year jail term and/or a fine of up to two thousand five hundred (2,500) dollars.
Malicious wounding is provided in the same statute as unlawfully wounding and they are mostly used interchangeably. However, there exists a slim difference between the two offenses: malicious wounding involves no provocation before wounding a person while unlawfully wounding involves provoking the person. The penalties for the two crimes are different. Malicious wounding is a class three (3) felony, whose penalties include a prison term that ranges from five (5) to twenty (20) years and a fine which can amount to one hundred thousand (100,000) dollars.
Aggravated Malicious Wounding – Virginia Code 18.2-51.2
This offense involves maliciously cutting, stabbing, shooting, wounding, or causing any severe injuries that result in permanent and more significant observable or physical impairments to the alleged victim. The perpetrator must have had the intention to kill or harm.
This offense is a class two (2) felony with a sentence of twenty (20) years to life imprisonment and a maximum fine of 100,000 dollars.
The Virginia Code 18.2-51.6 strangulation law is a relatively new statute in the state. This offense involves intentionally applying excessive pressure to someone’s neck to the extent of preventing normal blood circulation that results in a wound or injury to the victim’s body. This offense is charged as a class six (6) felony with one to five (5) years in prison and a fine which may amount to two thousand five hundred (2500) dollars.
Virginia Three Strike Laws
In 1982, Virginia state passed the three strike law, which strictly punishes any convict who has a record of a previous conviction of two different violent charges with up to life imprisonment. Any person convicted of violent felonies such as robbery and murder is not eligible for parole as per the 1982 law, provided that they committed the three felonies consecutively.
However, legislations are underway to enact amendments on the three strike law, specifically on the issue of parole. This is because the law can be used unjustly to people convicted of such felonies as robbery, making them serve longer imprisonment terms that include life imprisonment in most cases. However, the new amendment would only target people who haven't lost their parole eligibility.
Penalties for Robbery in Virginia
Virginia Code 18.2-58 sets the minimum for robbery sentencing at five (5) years. However, the judge takes into account different aspects of the case before issuing the final verdict; for example, if a victim died or firearms were used. In the harshest of situations, a robbery conviction can render someone to a state correctional facility for life.
Nevertheless, the broadness in robbery sentences is because most robbery scenarios are distinct. For instance, street robbery, bank robbery, and armed robbery may carry life imprisonment sentence as long as a person used firearms or the victim suffered injuries.
Legal Defenses for a Robbery Charge
There are various legal defenses that an attorney can use to defend you against robbery and related charges. Most defense strategies rely on the fact that a prosecutor may not satisfactorily prove the elements of the crime, leaving chances of doubts in the judge's mind. Some of these defenses include:
An attorney can argue that you were forced to commit the act of robbery. You might have been threatened to face death or injuries if you did not commit robbery. The threat may be directed to your immediate family or person. However, the strength of this defense strategy requires that you showed fear after the threat, which may include reporting the incident to the police.
You are innocent
This applies when you believe that you were wrongly accused of committing robbery. Typically, the prosecution must prove that you committed the crime based on the elements of robbery which a skilled attorney can refute because the evidence is wrong or insufficient. Some of the proofs that the attorney can provide to confirm your innocence include an alibi that shows that you were not in the place where the robbery occurred – implying that another person committed the crime. They may also show that the witness or evidence provided is unreliable and prejudicial while at the same time refuting the testimonies provided as inaccurate, possibly given out of stress by the complaining witness.
No force or violence was used
For an act to be regarded as a robbery, force or violence is an essential element that the prosecution must prove. Additionally, the force must have caused fear to the victim to make them surrender their property. Though it appears easy to prove that force was used, it would get complicated to prove this element if the victim does not have any injury or there is no witness to confirm the prosecutor’s accusations. Consequently, the judge may drop the charges; but you may face other theft offenses such as petty theft if the stolen items were recalled in your possession.
The alleged victim consented
In some cases, you may take someone's property because they agreed with you but they still file a lawsuit of robbery against you. This should automatically disqualify the case. However, using this defense strategy requires top-notch expertise in criminal defense since some questions may arise to challenge the claim: for instance, why did you use violence or force to take property if the victim had consented?
You have the ownership right over the property
In some scenarios, you may have given the alleged victim your private property which they had to return after a certain period. Instead, they couldn't meet their end of the deal which made you take back your property forcefully. Even though such a case may land you in a trial for robbery, the fact that you had ownership right of the said property should act as a perfect defense strategy.
The above defense strategies imply that the judge may dismiss the robbery charges if the prosecutor cannot provide enough evidence for all the elements of robbery. Note that this verdict will still hold even if the prosecutor satisfactorily proves all elements apart from a single element. In the latter case, you may still face charges for other forms of theft or property crimes; as an example, you may face charges for burglary, petty theft, grand theft, or shoplifting. However, it lies upon the convincing nature of the arguments presented by the defense attorney for you to be able to win the case.
Find an Experienced Legal Representative Near Me
Robbery in Virginia is a kind of crime whose penalties can impact one's life negatively. If you or loved ones have been charged with robbery, then you require an experienced attorney to defend you against the charges. Virginia Criminal Attorney is reputable for defending people who are accused of robbery and related crimes in Fairfax and Northern Virginia. Call our Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer 703-718-5533 to speak to one of our criminal defense attorneys to help you get legal representation.