In California, theft and robbery are not the same. Both involve taking another person's property without consent, but the manner in which the property was taken differs. Also, the value of the property is considered when determining how severe a theft offense is. In contrast, the value of the property is not factored into the severity of robbery; however, where or who the property was taken from is.
Robbery is a more severe form of theft. In this blog, we'll examine what distinguishes theft from robbery by taking a closer look at their similarities and differences.
Theft by Larceny
Before we begin this examination, we must note that California's theft laws concern various types of conduct. There is theft by employee, theft by false pretenses, theft by trick, theft by embezzlement, and theft by larceny. For consistency's sake, we will only be examining theft by larceny.
Taking of Another Person’s Property
The main similarity between theft and robbery is the act of taking someone else's property. This means that the offender allegedly gained possession of something that did not belong to them and moved it away from the owner. It does not matter the distance the object was moved. Even if the alleged offender only transported it a few feet, their actions fit the definition of taking someone else's property.
The specific wording concerning the taking of another's property for each offense is as follows:
- Theft: "Steal, take, carry, lead, or drive away the personal property of another (California Penal Code 484).
- Robbery: "Taking of personal property in the possession of another." (California Penal Code 211).
For the taking of property to be considered unlawful (for both robbery and theft), it must have been done without the other person's consent. California's robbery law refers to this as committing the act against the other person's will.
For something to be done without consent means that the other person did not freely and voluntarily give permission for the act to be performed.
Taken From Immediate Presence
The location of the stolen property in relation to the owner is where robbery and theft begin to diverge. One of the elements of robbery is removing property from the other person's "immediate presence." This means that either the owner was in physical control of the object, or that they were near enough to it that they could have exercised control over it.
Similarly, grand theft can involve taking property from someone else's person. Yet, petty theft does not include this element. Petty theft under California Penal Code 488 is defined as other cases of theft, meaning those cases that do not involve the elements of grand theft.
Use of Force or Fear
This is where theft and robbery completely split. Robbery is committed when someone uses force or fear to prevent another person from resisting their property being taken from them.
The use of force or fear includes threatening bodily or property injury upon:
- The person being robbed,
- A member of the victim's family, or
- Anyone with the victim at the time of the offense.
- Theft does not involve the use of force or fear.
Value of Property or Location of Offense
For the most part, with theft offenses, the value of the property is taken into account when determining the severity of the offense. When the property is worth $950 or less, it's called petty theft. When it's valued at more than $950, it's called grand theft. However, it's important to note that there are some instances when an offense is grand theft regardless of the property's value.
These cases include when the property is:
- Farm crops,
- Sea creatures used for commercial or research purposes,
- Taken directly from a person,
- An automobile, or
- A firearm.
A person can be charged with robbery however slight the value of the property. Still, California does have two degrees of robbery. What determines whether an offense is charged as first- or second-degree robbery is where the offense occurred and who the victim was.
A first-degree robbery charge is levied when the offense was committed:
- In an inhabited dwelling, vessel, or building;
- On someone who used or just used an ATM;
- On a driver or passenger of a public transportation vehicle
All other cases are charged as second-degree robbery.