By: Mark Diaz
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Is Robbery a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
Typically, when someone asks a question with two alternative answers, the proper response will be one or the other. Unfortunately, you may not get such a clear-cut reply when you ask whether robbery is a misdemeanor or felony in Texas. The reason comes down to confusion about definitions.
Many people lump robbery into the many other types of theft offenses under state law. There are numerous theft crimes that are classified as misdemeanors. However, the Texas Penal Code defines robbery as a specific type of theft offense with its own elements, penalties, and defenses. Aside from stealing an item or misappropriating something that does not belong to you, the underlying circumstances of robbery incorporate violence, leading lawmakers to categorize robbery as a felony.
If you were arrested for robbery, it is wise to retain a Galveston County criminal defense lawyer right away. A conviction for any type of theft offense will still carry harsh penalties, including jail time and fines; plus the possibility of paying restitution and many other ramifications. To better understand robbery in the context of misdemeanor or felony charges, an overview may be helpful.
Basics of Robbery Charges in Texas
As with any criminal matter, there are certain facts that the prosecutor must establish to obtain a conviction for robbery. For each of these elements, the government is required to meet the burden in a criminal case, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The essential elements for a robbery conviction include:
- Because robbery is a type of theft crime, there must be sufficient evidence that the defendant was committing the act of theft. The prosecutor needs to prove unlawful appropriation of property with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of said property.
- The government must prove that the defendant acted with the intent to obtain or maintain control over the misappropriated item.
- The prosecution needs to show that the defendant intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury to another person or placed someone in fear of immediate harm. In addition, some forms of reckless conduct may be sufficient to meet this element.
This basic form of robbery is a Second Degree Felony, punishable as described below.
Note that the definition of “property” in the context of theft crimes includes all tangible or intangible items, as well as documents that represent value. As such, you could be arrested for robbery if you use violence to obtain money, a vehicle, a bag or purse, or a wallet. However, the use of violence or threats to obtain someone’s ATM password might also constitute robbery.
Aggravated Robbery Charges in Texas
Robbery already incorporates the notion of violence, but the crime is more serious in the presence of additional circumstances. For aggravated robbery, familiarly known as “armed” robbery, the prosecutor must first prove the essential elements of robbery. Then, the government needs to show that:
- The defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon in the commission of a robbery.
- The victim who suffered bodily harm or was placed in fear of harm through threats was an elderly person aged 65 or older or a disabled individual.
Aggravated robbery is a First Degree Felony in Texas.
Special Considerations to Note About Robbery and Other Theft Crimes
In addition to an overview of robbery offenses in Texas, some additional points may clarify and demonstrate the distinctions among theft offenses:
- Larceny: This term is often used interchangeably as an umbrella for various types of theft. Texas does not have a statute on larceny and does not define it as a separate crime, so the general notions of theft apply.
- Burglary: The Penal Code classifies burglary as an offense against the property because it is not actually a theft crime, contrary to popular misconception. Burglary is more closely associated with breaking and entering or trespass. It involves accessing or remaining in a structure without the owner’s consent, with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
- Fraud: When a person uses deception for purposes of financial gain, the crime is fraud instead of theft. The key is the false or misleading statements that the victim relies upon in parting with property or items of value.
- Embezzlement: This crime is closely associated with theft, but also encompasses fraud concepts. With embezzlement, the offender does, at some point, have lawful possession or right to use the items for the benefit of another. However, along the course of conduct, that person misappropriated the items for his or her own use. Examples are taking petty cash from an employer that you were instructed to deposit into a bank account.
Punishment for a Robbery Conviction
If the government succeeds in meeting its burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the next step in a robbery case is sentencing. The starting off point for the judge will be assessing the basic penalties associated with the crime:
- As a Second Degree Felony, so-called “simple” robbery is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison. However, the court could order up to the maximum term of incarceration, which is 20 years.
- Aggravated robbery is a First Degree Felony, the second-most serious felony in Texas. The mandatory minimum is five years’ imprisonment, but the statute allows a judge to issue a sentence of 99 years to life. *** Aggravated Robbery is also what is called a 3G offense which means that an individual convicted and sentenced to prison as a result will not be eligible for parole until half of the sentence has been served.
Restitution: For both robbery and aggravated robbery, the court may impose a maximum fine of $10,000; you may be ordered to pay for court costs as well. However, incarceration and fines are just the beginning. Texas law provides that victims of certain crimes, including robbery, may be entitled to restitution for the losses incurred through the offense. The sentencing judge will typically order restitution, and it becomes part of your criminal sentence. In other words, until you pay off the balance in full, you are not deemed as having served your sentence in full.
Collateral Consequences: Even after completing your sentence and paying restitution, there are implications from a robbery conviction that continue to affect your life. A felony conviction will appear on your permanent criminal record indefinitely since these offenses are not subject to expunction; unless you receive a pardon, the case shows up in a background check. Having a conviction could create challenges with employment. Additional collateral consequences:
- You could lose your driving privileges.
- Any professional or business license you hold could be revoked or suspended.
- A convicted felon is ineligible to vote in elections.
- A felony conviction impacts your Second Amendment rights.
Options for Defending Misdemeanor or Felony Robbery
Knowing the harsh penalties if you are found guilty, your primary objective will be avoiding a conviction for robbery. Because of the high burden, the prosecution must meet to secure a conviction, a key strategy will be attacking the government’s case-in-chief. If you can expose weaknesses in the evidence, you may create a shadow of a doubt in the minds of the jurors. Your Galveston County criminal defense lawyer may also explore other defense options, such as:
- In some cases, you may have grounds to have evidence thrown out. If police engaged in any misconduct that violates your constitutional rights, the information they seize from you cannot be used in court.
- Any weaknesses in the government’s case may lead to a dismissal of the charges before trial or an acquittal. Still, when a prosecutor is in a very tough spot and lacks essential proof, you may be in a position to leverage plea bargaining. You may be able to reduce the charges from robbery to a misdemeanor theft crime, or from aggravated robbery to simple robbery. The penalties and collateral consequences will also be less severe.
- Once the government rests, your defense attorney will raise any additional defenses to robbery charges. Because robbery requires a showing of intentional, knowing, or reckless conduct, you may defend the allegations on the grounds that the prosecutor did not prove your state of mind.
In addition, the victim’s state of mind may be relevant to your defenses. When the robbery charges are based upon threats of harm instead of actual bodily injury, the concept of “fear” takes center stage. If the victim’s state of mind exhibits an irrational, unreasonable sense of fear that does not align with how the average, prudent person would assess the situation, the prosecutor may not be able to prove that there was a threat of harm. This scenario could take your case out of the realm of robbery and into one of the lesser theft crimes, which might lead to misdemeanor charges instead of a felony.
Consult with a Galveston County Criminal Defense Lawyer Right Away
It is helpful to appreciate how Texas theft laws work, but legal representation is critical regardless of whether you were arrested for a misdemeanor or felony robbery. Without a background in law, you cannot take advantage of defenses and strategies for fighting the charges. Instead of putting your rights at risk, please contact Criminal Defense Attorney Mark Diaz for assistance.
Individuals in Galveston County and Greater Houston can set up a free consultation with a Texas robbery defense lawyer by calling (409) 515-6170. Once we review your circumstances, we can advise you on the next steps.