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California Robbery Laws

The crime of robbery describes the use of force or intimidation to take personal property from another person's immediate presence. To prove the offense of robbery in California, a prosecutor must establish:

  1. That the defendant intentionally used force or intimidation to cause fear. California robbery law requires the use of at least some force in order to distinguish robbery from larceny. While use of a weapon may seem most straightforward, other means of intimidation may also qualify.
  2. At the time of the robbery, the victim feared an unlawful injury to himself or herself or others or to the property involved. If the victim was unaware of the crime, the prosecutor may not be able to establish the elements of robbery, although the offense of theft or larceny could still apply. As an example, if Don takes Veronica's cell phone from her purse while riding the subway and she did not see him do it, Don probably committed larceny rather than burglary.
  3. The property was taken in the victim's immediate presence. The property does not have to be on the victim's person or body. California courts have issued several decisions regarding the circumstances that qualify as property taken from the victim's immediate presence. In general, it is sufficient that the personal property had been within the victim's physical presence or within the victim's sight or hearing.
  4. That the defendant attempt to escape with the taken property.

California state laws create two types of robbery -- first degree and second degree. First degree robbery occurs if:

  • The offense takes place in a home, an inhabited dwelling, or the inhabited part of a building or vessel;
  • The victim was on the job as a transit operator or taxi driver; or
  • The victim was a patron using an automated teller machine or in the immediate vicinity of the ATM.

The state charges second degree robbery for all robberies that do not meet the definition of first degree robbery.


California Penal Code Section 211 (defining robbery)

California Penal Code Section 213 (punishments for robbery)

Possible Penalties

First degree robbery is punishable by 3, 4, or 6 years imprisonment. If a robbery includes conspiracy and takes place in a home or other inhabited dwelling, it can be punishable by 3, 6, or 9 years imprisonment.

Second degree robbery is punishable by 2, 3, or 5 years imprisonment.


Defenses can include:

  • Age
  • Entrapment
  • No intent/mistake of fact
  • Duress
  • Claim of right (the defendant has a bona fide claim of ownership to the property or title)

See Robbery Defenses for more details.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

Charged With Robbery? Contact an Attorney Today

To be convicted of robbery, the prosecution must show the presence of certain conditions. Some of these can depend on such things as the defendant's intent or whether the victim felt intimidated, aspects that can be hard to establish in some cases. Get in touch with an experienced California criminal defense attorney in your area today to learn more.

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