What’s Force Got to Do With It? Robbery and the Law

Robbery is related to a theft offence in that it involves stealing property or goods but involves the use of force, threats or intimidation. Burglary is a separate offence, as it involves trespassing onto a property to commit the theft.

Understanding a Robbery charge

There are two categories of the offence, namely ‘robbery’ and ‘armed robbery’. Robbery means that either “immediately before, or at the time of doing so and in order to do so” force or the threat of force is used to commit theft.[1] For example, if you threaten to assault someone during the commission of a theft offence, you can be charged with robbery, instead of theft.

If a weapon, firearm or explosive (including an imitation) is used to commit the theft, you could be charged with armed robbery.[2] The weapon, firearm or explosive does not need to be used, but it needs to be present during the commission of the theft. For example, if you used a knife to threaten a cashier to provide the contents of their till, you could be charged with armed robbery.

What the Police must prove

In order to establish the offence of robbery, the Police must prove that:

  • You committed theft of property or goods;
  • Force, or the threat of force, was used by you to commit the theft;
  • Force was used before, during or after the theft by you; and
  • The force was used in order to commit the theft.

If you have been charged with armed robbery, in addition to the above, the Police must also establish:

  • That a firearm, weapon or explosive was present;
  • It was present during the commission of the offence; and
  • The firearm, weapon or explosive was used for the purposes of the robbery.

Penalties and Options

The penalty, if you are found guilty of a robbery offence, is a term of imprisonment up to a maximum of 15 years.[3] For armed robbery, the penalty increases to a maximum of 25 years imprisonment.[4] The charge of armed robbery can only be dealt with in the County Court but the charge of robbery can be dealt with in either the Magistrates Court or the County Court.

Robbery Defences

A defence may be available if you did not commit the offence and are able to prove that you were not present at the scene of the crime. You can argue that you had no intention to commit theft and/or did not steal the subject property or goods. For example, if the goods belonged to you or you had a legal claim to them.

You can also raise that no force was used during the theft. Force does not have a statutory definition, but generally means the use of physical force. If the charge relates to a perceived threat of force, the fear must be sufficient to have caused personal intimidation at the time of the theft.[5] Therefore, you may be able to argue that no force was applied during the commission of the theft.

If you have been charged with armed robbery, you may be able to argue that you did not have a weapon, firearm or explosive present during the commission of the theft. It may also be possible to reduce the charge of robbery to two separate and lesser charges of theft offence and assault offence. This involves separating the use of force from the commission of the theft.

Possible defences are quite complex and it is important that you seek legal advice to determine the best defence based on the circumstances of your case.

[1] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 75(1).
[2] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 75A(1).
[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 75(2).
[4] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 75A(2).
[5] R v Butcher [1986] VR 43.

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