New York Robbery/Theft Attorney
What is the Difference Between Robbery and Theft?
While many people use the words “robbery” and “theft” interchangeably, they are completely separate offenses from a legal standpoint. These offenses are charged under entirely different circumstances, and will lead to different consequences if the defendant is convicted. Robbery offenses are located at NY Penal Law §160, while theft offenses are addressed by NY Penal Law §155.
The key difference is that robbery specifically involves “forcible stealing,” which means using force to physically take someone’s property away. Some common examples could include mugging or purse-snatching. In simplified terms, robbery is theft plus an element of violence or threat-making.
Theft, which is technically called petit larceny or grand larceny, has a much broader definition than robbery. While robbery must involve stealing physical property, such as a laptop, phone, or wallet, theft can refer to stealing intangible commodities. Embezzlement, identity theft, and theft of services such as cable or utilities are good examples of this.
Theft can also refer to stealing physical property without the use of force or violence which defines robbery. Under §155.00, property includes:
- Data and Information
- Personal Property
- Real Property
- Utilities (e.g. electricity, water, gas)
Grand Larceny vs. Petit Larceny
The formal name for theft is larceny. Larceny is further divided into two categories: grand larceny and petit larceny. There are no degrees of petit larceny: the offense is always treated as a Class A Misdemeanor under §155.25. Grand larceny is divided into five offenses:
- Fourth Degree (§155.30) – Class E Felony
- Third Degree (§155.35) – Class D Felony
- Second Degree (§155.40) – Class C Felony
- First Degree (§155.42) – Class B Felony
- Aggravated Grand Larceny of an ATM (§155.43) – Class C Felony
The main factors which distinguish between different categories include the overall value of the stolen property, the type of property which was stolen, and the way the property was obtained. For example, petit larceny is charged for a stolen property value of $1,000 or less, while first degree grand larceny is charged for a stolen property value of more than $1,000,000. To give another example, obtaining property by means of extortion will result in second degree grand larceny charges regardless of the property’s worth.
Degrees of Robbery: How Crimes Are Categorized
Unlike theft offenses, robbery offenses are not distinguished by property value or the method of stealing. Instead, the factors that separate tiers of robbery involve the extent of force and violence used: for example, whether the defendant used a weapon, whether the defendant caused an injury, and whether the defendant was aided by other people. As the injuries or use of weapons become more serious, so do the robbery charges.
- Third Degree (§160.05) – Class D Felony
- Second Degree (§160.10) – Class C Violent Felony
- First Degree (§160.15) – Class B Violent Felony
Possible Penalties and Defenses
While third degree robbery charges and all larceny charges are considered “non-violent,” second and first degree robbery charges are categorized as violent crimes. While the maximum prison sentences for violent and nonviolent crimes are the same, violent crimes carry longer minimum sentences, as listed below:
- Class E Felony – No jail or probation possible; 1 1/3 to 4 years
- Class D Felony – No jail or probation possible; 1 – 3 to 7 years
- Class C Felony – No jail or probation possible; 1 – 2 to 15 years
- Class B Felony – 1 – 3 to 25 years
- Class C Violent Felony – 3.5 to 15 years
- Class B Violent Felony – 5 to 25 years
The fines for felony crimes are fixed at the higher of either $5,000 or double the money gained by committing the theft or robbery. (Drug crime felonies are the only exception to this rule.)
While the penalties for a conviction can be very harsh, you may be able to use one of the legal defenses recognized by state law.
For example, first degree robbery can be charged if the defendant is allegedly armed with, uses, or threatens to use a deadly weapon. However, under §160.15 it is an affirmative defense that the defendant’s firearm was not loaded and therefore was not capable of causing serious injury or death. There is no affirmative defense against third or second degree charges.
There are also some possible defenses against larceny charges. For example, if larceny is charged based on embezzlement, the defendant can argue that the claim or transaction was made in good faith. If larceny is charged based on extortion, the defendant can argue that his or her only purpose and intention was to “take reasonable action” against the victim. Such a belief must be deemed reasonable under the circumstances.
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