Robbery Lawyer | Defenses to Robbery Charges | Philadelphia, PA
Criminal Lawyers for Robbery Charges
The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC have successfully handled countless cases involving Robbery charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We are dedicated, understanding defense attorneys who will use our skill and expertise to help you obtain the best possible result. If you are facing criminal charges, call us at 267-225-2545 to discuss your case and how we can help. Robbery is a commonly charged offense in Pennsylvania, and it is potentially one of the most serious charges a defendant can face. The Commonwealth will typically bring a robbery case against a defendant when the defendant is accused of committing or attempting to commit a theft while using some sort of force or threat. Depending on the case, the charge may be graded as a first, second, or third degree felony. Our criminal lawyers have successfully defended against all three types of Robbery.
Types of Robbery Charges
Robbery may be charged as a felony of the first degree when the defendant, in the course of committing a theft, inflicts serious bodily injury upon another person or threatens someone with or intentionally puts someone in fear of immediate serious bodily injury. It is also a felony of the first degree when the defendant steals or attempts to steal a controlled substance. Because the first degree felony charge requires serious bodily injury or the threat of serious bodily injury, this type of robbery typically requires the use of a weapon during the commission of the theft. If the defendant did not use a weapon and the complainant did not suffer significant injuries during the theft, then it may be possible to beat a first degree robbery case either through the use of pre-trial motions to dismiss or quash or by fighting for an acquittal at trial.
Robbery is a second degree felony when the defendant causes bodily injury or uses threats of bodily injury as opposed to serious bodily injury. For example, a case where the defendant demands money while threatening to beat the complainant up could lead to second degree felony charges. This is the gradation most often seen when there was a robbery but no weapon or serious threat was employed during the commission of the offense.
We frequently receive questions as to the gradation of a "strong arm robbery" and whether it is a first or second degree felony. Generally, a strong arm robbery is one in which force or threat was used during the commission of the theft, but the perpetrator did not have or pretend to have a weapon or gun.
Under Pennsylvania law, a strong arm robbery could be a felony of the first or second degree. The gradation of the charges depends on whether the defendant caused or threatened serious bodily injury or only bodily injury. A strong arm robbery in which the defendant threw only one punch which did not result in serious injury would likely be charged as a felony of the second degree. But if the defendant threw a punch and threatened to kill the alleged victim if the victim did not turn over the money, the strong arm robbery could be a felony of the first degree because the threat to kill could be considered a threat of serious bodily injury instead of just bodily injury. An armed robbery involving a deadly weapon or gun is typically going to be charged as a first degree felony if the gun or weapon was brandished or used in any way. This is true even if the defendant did not allegedly shoot the gun during the commisison of the offense.
Robbery as a Phone or Purse Snatching
Robbery is a felony of the third degree when the defendant takes or removes property from the person of another by force however slight. For example, snatching something out of someone's hands on the subway and taking off without threatening or injury someone could be a robbery of the third degree. A phone snatching on the subway is typically going to be charged as a third degree felony. However, a person who successfully pick pockets someone's wallet or something out of a purse likely has not committed a robbery; instead, that crime would only be a theft, which is usually a misdemeanor. In order for a robbery to have occurred, the alleged victim must have been aware of the theft or attempted theft.
Jail Sentences for Robbery Convictions in Pennsylvania
Robbery is a serious criminal charge even if the defendant has been charged only with the third degree felony variety. First degree felonies are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Second degree felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and third degree felonies are punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Further, when charged as a first degree felony, it is a crime of violence under Pennsylvania's Three Strikes law. If the defendant has previously been convicted of certain crimes of violence, the F1 could carry a mandatory minimum of 10-20 years of incarceration for a second strike and 25-life for a third strike. Even without priors, the sentencing guidelines suggest jail time for an F1 robbery and many F2's. The second degree felony charge, however, is not a strike offense, so there is currently no mandatory minimum in Pennsylvania for an F2 conviction.
Defenses to Robbery Cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Although robbery is a serious criminal charge, there are often defenses. Our criminal defense lawyers will often begin by defending a case with a challenge to the gradation of the charges at the preliminary hearing. In many cases, the Commonwealth overcharges the defendant with a first degree felony instead of a lesser charge. For this reason, it is often possible to have the gradation downgraded at the preliminary hearing if it can be shown that the complainant did not suffer serious bodily injury or that the defendant did not use a gun or other weapon.
Gradation and Sufficiency Defenses
Depending on the case, it may be possible to have the robbery count dismissed altogether and the case remanded to the Municipal Court for trial on misdemeanor theft charges. For example, retail thefts in which the defendant pushes the security guard or makes some sort of threat on the way out of the store in order to evade apprehension are often charged as robbery, but it is frequently possible to successfully move for the dismissal of the most serious charges in those types of cases. When the motion to dismiss is successful, the defendant will face a trial only on the lesser misdemeanor theft charges.
The second most common defense to a robbery case is the defense of misidentification - in other words, did the police arrest the right guy. These cases frequently raise issues surrounding the identification of the perpetrator because in many instances, the alleged robber is not arrested right away. Instead, the defendant is arrested sometime later in possession of allegedly stolen property or through some sort of post-incident identification procedure like a photo array. For example, the police may receive a 911 call about a robbery and then grab a guy in the neighborhood where the incident occurred wearing similar clothing but who was not actually involved in the offense. If the actual incident occurred very quickly, then the complainant may make a mistake and identify the person as the robber even if that person had nothing to do with the crime.
Unfortunately, misidentifications occur on a regular basis, and they are particularly common in these cases. In many cases, it may be possible to challenge an eyewitness identification through the use of a motion for a lineup, based on differences in the description given and the physical characteristics of the defendant arrested, or even through the use of expert testimony on the many problems inherent in eyewitness identifications. Likewise, by moving quickly, we may be able to preserve the 911 tape or police body camera footage in order to hear the exact description which the complainant gave to the police right after the incident occurred.
Lineup Motions in Robbery Cases
Depending on the allegations, our defense attorneys may make a motion for a lineup prior to the preliminary hearing. If the preliminary hearing judge grants a motion for a lineup, then the complainant will be asked to try to pick out the person who allegedly robbed him or her from a group of six people with similar physical characteristics. If the complainant is unable to identify the defendant as the person who robbed him or her at the lineup, then the Commonwealth's case against the defendant will be much weaker and may even be withdrawn.
Lineup motions are not appropriate for every case, and they are especially inappropriate in cases in which the defendant and complainant know each other. But the motion for a lineup is a critical tool which may be strategically employed by defense counsel in order to obtain evidence that the complainant does not actually know or remember what the robber really looked like. Therefore, our attorneys will always carefully review the police reports and investigate the circumstances of the incident prior to the preliminary hearing in order to determine whether it is appropriate to move for a lineup.
Expert Witnesses in Misidentification Cases
In some cases, it may be necessary to retain an expert witness on identification. There are many well-documented problems in eyewitness testimony and identification. For example, people tend to have a difficult time making accurate identifications in cases where a weapon was used, of people they have never seen before, and of people of different races. Therefore, our robbery lawyers are well versed in the most effective methods for cross examining identification witnesses in order to show that they have made a mistake. Depending on the circumstances, we may also be able to obtain an expert witness to help challenge the identification and educate the jury on the problems inherent in eyewitness identifications. If we are retained early, we can also move quickly in an attempt to locate surveillance footage as well as the police 911 tapes which may contain the earliest description of what the alleged robber looked like. The 911 tape could provide compelling evidence that the complainant and police have made a mistake if the defendant does not closely match the description provided to emergency dispatchers.
Case Study - Recently, Attorney Goldstein won a Motion to Quash in the case of Commonwealth v. T.J. In that case, Attorney Goldstein obtained the dismissal of all charges relating to an alleged gunpoint robbery because the Commonwealth failed to introduce sufficient evidence relating to the defendant's identification. Click here to learn more about the results obtained in that case.
We Can Help With Robbery Charges
Given the seriousness of the offense and the real potential for incarceration, it is critical that anyone who is facing robbery allegations in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC have extensive experience and a proven track record of success in defending against all types of criminal charges. We have won motions for lineups, pre-trial motions to suppress identification and physical evidence, obtained dismissals at preliminary hearings, and successfully convinced judges and juries of the defendant's innocence by pointing out inaccuracies in the eyewitness' or complainant's testimony. If you are facing robbery charges, we need to start investigating your case right away. Valuable evidence such as surveillance camera footage or the police 911 tapes could be destroyed due to delay. Many stores with cameras keep that footage for only 48 hours or less. Start planning your defense today. Call 267-225-2545 for a complimentary criminal defense strategy session with one of our Philadelphia Robbery Lawyers.
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The Robbery Statute
§ 3701. Robbery.
(a) Offense defined.--
(1) A person is guilty of robbery if, in the course of committing a theft, he:
(i) inflicts serious bodily injury upon another;
(ii) threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate serious bodily injury;
(iii) commits or threatens immediately to commit any felony of the first or second degree;
(iv) inflicts bodily injury upon another or threatens another with or intentionally puts him in fear of immediate bodily injury;
(v) physically takes or removes property from the person of another by force however slight; or
(vi) takes or removes the money of a financial institution without the permission of the financial institution by making a demand of an employee of the financial institution orally or in writing with the intent to deprive the financial institution thereof.
(2) An act shall be deemed "in the course of committing a theft" if it occurs in an attempt to commit theft or in flight after the attempt or commission.
(3) For purposes of this subsection, a "financial institution" means a bank, trust company, savings trust, credit union or similar institution.
(1) Except as provided under paragraph (2), robbery under subsection (a)(1)(iv) and (vi) is a felony of the second degree; robbery under subsection (a)(1)(v) is a felony of the third degree; otherwise, it is a felony of the first degree.
(2) If the object of a robbery under paragraph (1) is a controlled substance or designer drug as those terms are defined in section 2 of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, robbery is a felony of the first degree.