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Personal Experience The Differences and Penalties for Robbery, Burglary and Simple Theft

In the early 1980's I was assigned the responsibility of prosecuting a Hobbs Act Robbery (a federal crime) which occurred at the Little River Post Office in Miami.

Four perpetrators had committed the robbery. A young man (a minister's son) had been accused of being one of the perpetrators because he had found a wallet that one of the actual criminals had dropped in the street and attempted to return it to the same post office where the robbery had just taken place, since he recognized the license in the wallet as belonging to one of the employees he knew there. When he returned to the post office for this reason he was falsely identified as one of the perpetrators. He was arrested and jailed.

But as I continued to investigate the case, the fact that this young man might have been one of the guilty parties made less and less sense. His background was good and eventually his story checked out due to his alibi (He was with his girlfriend at the time who truthfully testified before the grand jury about what happened). I decided to drop the case against this young man and my hunch turned out to be completely correct.

A few weeks later all four of the actual perpetrators were arrested and confessed to the crime.

This episode taught me how important it was to think about each individual case that’s handled, and take into account the defendant's perspective, illuminating and persuading young prosecutors to the possibility that they may have the wrong man.

Investigations of each individual case can be vitally important as illustrated by this example. There is no substitute for a strong defense and a proper investigation benefits the possible outcome as it did in a case such as described.

The Differences and Penalties for Robbery, Burglary and Simple Theft

In the State of Florida, taking another person’s property or cash without the objective of returning it is categorized as simple theft in most cases. Robbery however is performing the same act, but through the process of using force.

The punishment for robbery can vary depending upon the element of whether there was a weapon involved during the course of the crime or not. In both circumstances, the penalties can be stiff and the definition of the crime is simply the taking of cash or property by one person or a group of persons from another in a violent manner.

When a robbery is committed without a weapon it is usually prosecuted as a second-degree felony which can carry a term of imprisonment of up to fifteen years. However, if a weapon is involved during the course of the crime, the offense will be treated as a first-degree felony where the term of incarceration is greater, and can hold up to a term of life in prison.

In contrast to robbery, burglary fits all the above criteria but is distinguished from that crime due to this type of theft taking place; i.e. through the unlawful entry of a dwelling or business by the perpetrator committing the alleged crime.

In order for the prosecution to prove a charge of robbery, four separate criteria must be met. First, as in most crimes, the question of intent must be answered. This would not apply for burglary as the intent would be evident as long as it can be proven that the suspect entered the dwelling by force and without invitation.

Secondly, it must be evidenced that the suspect seized monetary funds or property from the victim’s control without their consent.

The third requirement is that the perpetrator would have to be substantiated is that the perpetrator took such items by using force or by delivering a direct threat causing the victim to fear for their life or believe they would risk bodily injury without their compliance.

Lastly, it would have to be verified that the possessions in question taken from the victim had a monetary value. Even a minute amount of cash can be charged as robbery if the other features listed above can be proven by the prosecution.

In the case of a violent robbery, the prosecution can pursue Florida’s “three strike law” if the defendant has had two previous convictions for violent crimes. This law was put into effect just before the turn of the twenty-first century. It necessitates those considered to be career criminals to serve mandatory minimum terms of incarceration if they’re convicted of a third violent offense. If all the criteria of this law are met, a Judge is required to levy the minimum mandatory term of prison time quantified under the law which can include life imprisonment.

To read the Florida Statute for robbery and associated crimes, click here. The Web page directly concerning burglary can be found by clicking here. Both of these resources can be viewed on the Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature.

To read about Mr. Cohen’s qualifications and what you should do if you are arrested and charged with this crime, click here.

To read a recent article, posted on my blog about Cecil Collins, a former Miami Dolphin rising star that spent more than a decade in prison for a conviction for burglary, click here.