Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"I've been robbed..."

"I've been robbed."

I started my career as a police dispatcher, answering emergency phone calls and routing officers to the scene.  When someone called to report a "robbery," my heart would skip a beat.  Robberies are violent. Dangerous. They usually involve firearms.  The police response is all-out.
Everyone knows the common definition of theft or larceny--taking something belonging to another--but it also includes any type of fraud, misrepresentation or deception.  One of the most interesting cases I worked as a young investigator many years ago involved a man selling TVs out of the trunk of his car in shopping center parking lots.  He would motion people over to his car with a story that he had a TV to sell--it was not the one he wanted but the store wouldn't take it back, so he was trying to sell it in order to buy the one he wanted.  He would partially open a box to show a TV wrapped in plastic and packed in Styrofoam.  People would buy the TVs and the guy would take off with the money.

When the buyer had a chance to unwrap it, he found a very old, worthless black & white TV that had been packaged to make it look new.  We finally caught up with him and charged him with theft.  He had defrauded the victims, which under our state law was a theft.

The important element to remember about burglary is that it requires an "unauthorized entry" into the premises.  The suspect has to unlawfully enter the business, home or other structure.  It is not necessary to "break in," only that the entry is without permission.  If I walk into Wal-Mart during business hours, I can't commit a burglary there because I did not make an unauthorized entry.

So the two essential elements of a burglary are:
(1) an unauthorized entry
(2) the intent to commit a theft or felony inside

It is not necessary to commit the theft or felony to have a burglary, only have the intent to do so.

A robbery is a theft in which the perpetrator uses force or the threat of force to take something in the immediate control of the victim.  If I snatch your wallet out of your hand, that is a robbery.  If I pretend to have a gun and demand all your money, that's a robbery.

Usually with felony charges like burglary and robbery, we don't add on misdemeanor charges.  It would just mean more paperwork and the misdemeanors will most likely be dropped by the D.A. anyway.  Many misdemeanors are "lesser and included crimes" to felonies, which means the defendant could not be found guilty of both.  For example, a suspect robs a convenience store of $50.  He cannot be convicted of theft and robbery because the theft is an essential element of the robbery charge.  It would be punishing twice for the same behavior.  The same holds true for breaking out a window to commit a burglary.  Only the burglary charge would be pursued, not a misdemeanor damage to property.

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