A conviction for armed robbery has serious consequences, including the possibility of a life prison sentence.
Elements of Armed Robbery
In order to convict a defendant of armed robbery, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The defendant was armed with a dangerous weapon;
- The defendant either applied actual force and violence to the body of the victim or put the victim in fear by threatening words or gestures;
- The defendant took property with the intent to steal it; and
- The defendant took the property from the victim or immediate control of the victim.
A dangerous weapon is defined as an item that is capable of causing serious injury or death. An item that is normally used for innocent purposes can become a dangerous weapon if it is intentionally used as a weapon in a dangerous or potentially dangerous fashion. For example, a lit cigarette can be a dangerous weapon if used to burn someone and a sharpened pencil can be a dangerous weapon if thrown at someone's eyes.
There are enhanced penalties if the defendant was masked or if the defendant was armed with a gun. Unarmed robbery is a lesser included offense of armed robbery and does not require the Commonwealth to prove the defendant was armed with a dangerous weapon.
Common Defense Strategies
Armed robbery cases can be defended in a variety of ways.
- Identification - Particularly when the defendant is masked, there will likely be an issue of identity. An armed robbery is obviously a stressful and hectic incident. It makes sense that an alleged victim might misidentify the defendant. Spring & Spring aggressively cross-examines all eyewitnesses in these types of cases.
- Alleged Victim's Criminal Record - If the alleged victim has a criminal record or a history of violence, Spring & Spring will attempt to present this information to the jury. Criminal convictions are generally admissible within a certain time frame (convictions for misdemeanors within the last five years are admissible; convictions for felonies within the last 10 years are admissible). History of violence evidence (also called "prior bad act" evidence) is generally admissible if the defendant is asserting self-defense. Spring & Spring attorneys have extensive experience litigating these types of issues.
- Bias - In most armed robbery cases that go to trial, there is bad blood between the defendant and the alleged victim. The alleged victim ordinarily wants to see the defendant convicted and punished. The alleged victim's desire for revenge will be fully exposed on cross-examination.
Some alleged victims can refuse to testify because they have a Fifth Amendment Privilege. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that no person can be forced to offer testimony that might incriminate himself or herself in a crime. Therefore, if an alleged victim struck the defendant during the incident or if the alleged victim lied to the police about the facts of the case, that witness can assert his or her Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to testify against the defendant.
Given the serious consequences that result from an armed robbery conviction, it is essential that you have an attorney who is experienced in trying these types of cases. Spring & Spring criminal defense attorneys have the necessary experience to aggressively defend your case.