California “Robbery” Law – Penal Code 211 PC

In California, robbery is the act of taking personal property of another accomplished by force or fear. Charged under penal code 211 pc[1], robbery is a crime of violence against a person and is therefore subject to California’s Three Strike laws.[2]

If a person never actually participated in the robbery itself, they could still be charged if they conspired with another or aided and abetted to the robbery in any manner.  For instance, lending your car to someone else for the purposes of carrying out a bank robbery.

Robbery is broken down into degrees – first degree[3] and second degree. The following are examples of robbery in the first degree:

  • Person performing the duties of an operator of any bus, taxicab, cable car, streetcar, trackless trolley;
  • Any passenger that is perpetrated on any of these vehicles;
  • Inhabited dwelling;
  • A vessel that is designed for habitation;
  • Inhabited portion of any building;
  • Any person using an automated teller machine[4].

All other robberies that do not fall within the above list are robbery of the second degree.[5]

Arrested man in handcuffs with hands behind back

Elements to California Robbery – PC 211

The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict someone of PC 211:

  1. You took property that was not their own;
  2. You took property from someone else or their immediate presence;
  3. You took the property against another person’s will;
  4. You used force or fear to take the property;
  5. You intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property permanently or deprive the owner of a major portion of value or enjoyment to the property.[6]

Legal Defenses to Penal Code 211

False Accusations

False accusations can be done on accident by mistaken identification or on purpose from someone who has known or unknown motivations. Those who falsely accuse someone could be someone avoiding responsibility when they’re the actual culprit or a person who stands to gain an advantage – e.g., ex-spouse gaining legal custody of children, or as revenge from a prior incident.


Robbery requires the act of gaining control of another person’s property. If a suspect never gained control, then a robbery never occurred. However, that will not prevent the government from charging someone under an attempted robbery theory. Furthermore, the alleged victim must have possession of the property. If the property did not belong to them, or they were never granted permission to exercise control over the property, or they were not acting in the capacity of an employee, then a robbery did not occur.

Mistaken Identity

Without the use of scientific evidence, or absent an admission by the accused, there’s always doubt in someone’s culpability when the evidence is solely based on eye-witness identification – scientifically proven to be infallible. Someone can fall victim to mistaken identification based on a number of factors – e.g., poor lighting, police suggestiveness, a witness’s stress over the event itself, or cross-racial identification.


The force needed to effectuate the taking of the property must be more than incidental touching. For example, the force employed by a pickpocket would not support a conviction since the minimal force was incidental to grabbing the wallet.[7] However, grabbing someone’s cellular phone from their hands is sufficient force to accomplish a robbery.

Claim of Right

The defense of having a claim of right to the property occurs when someone honestly believes he or she has a right to the property even if the belief is mistaken or unreasonable. However, this defense only applies to the specific item(s) to be reclaimed and no other property, nor does this defense include unsettled debts. A person’s bona fide intent to recapture their own property helps negate the felonious intent necessary for robbery.

Conspiring with Victim

If one conspires with the alleged victim to carry out a staged robbery, then the alleged victim was not placed in a state of fear nor was there force used since it was prearranged. However, this will not prevent the government from filing conspiracy charges, but conspiracy carries far less exposure.

Punishment & Sentencing


First degree robbery is punishable in the state prison for 3, 4, or 6 years.[8] However, if the robbery was carried out with two or more people acting in concert and the robbery takes place in an inhabited dwelling, then it is punishable for 3, 6, or 9 years. Second degree robbery is punishable in the state prison for 2, 3, or 5 years.

Additional sentencing enhancements may apply if any of the following factors are proven:

  • Robbery was committed in furtherance of a criminal street gang;
  • The act was accomplished with a firearm;
  • You suffer from a prior strike.

What is Attempted Robbery?

An unsuccessful robbery may be an attempted robbery charged under penal code 664/211. Attempted robbery occurs when a defendant commits a substantial step in furtherance of effectuating the robbery. For instance, showing up at a prearranged robbery location with a loaded gun but having second thoughts and leaving the scene. Attempted robbery requires:

  1. A direct but ineffective step towards committing robbery;
  2. Harboring the intent to commit robbery.

Attempted robbery in the second degree is punishable in the state prison for 16 months, 2, or 3 years.[9]

Examples of California Robbery

  • John saw Beth talking on her cell phone. John ran up to Beth, grabbed the phone, and pushed Beth away. John ran away and was eventually apprehended. In this case, John would be charged with robbery in the second degree under PC 211 because John used force by pushing Beth to effectuate taking of her phone.
  • Dan breaks into Vic’s home one evening to steal property. Vic wakes up and discovers Dan inside her home. Dan points an unloaded firearm at Vic and tells her to sit down and be quiet. Moments later, Dan leaves after taking a few dollars-worth of property. Here, Dan would be charged with first degree robbery because the robbery took place inside Vic’s home. Dan would also face a 10-year firearm allegation despite the gun being unloaded. Lastly, robbery does not require property to have substantial value. Instead, the property need only have some intrinsic value.

Related Offenses

Contact Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

There’s no question that robbery charges are extremely serious. If you’ve been arrested, charged, or under investigation for robbery, armed robbery, or attempted robbery (PC 211), contact an experienced Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers to schedule a free confidential consultation.[10]

We have the knowledge, experience, and resources to handle your robbery charges. Our office understands the legal nuances in California’s criminal court system to offer you the highest possible representation.


[1] Penal Code 211 – defined (“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.”).

[2] People v. Scott (2000) 45 Cal.4th 743.

[3] See Penal Code 212.5(a) (“Every robbery of any person who is performing his or her duties as an operator of any bus, taxicab, cable car, streetcar, trackless trolley, or other vehicle, including a vehicle operated on stationary rails or on a track or rail suspended in the air, and used for the transportation of persons for hire, every robbery of any passenger which is perpetrated on any of these vehicles, and every robbery which is perpetrated in an inhabited dwelling house, a vessel as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code which is inhabited and designed for habitation, an inhabited floating home as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code , a trailer coach as defined in the Vehicle Code which is inhabited, or the inhabited portion of any other building is robbery of the first degree.”).

[4] Penal Code 212.5(b) – defined (“Every robbery of any person while using an automated teller machine or immediately after the person has used an automated teller machine and is in the vicinity of the automated teller machine is robbery of the first degree.”).

[5] See Penal Code 212.5(c) – (“All kinds of robbery other than those listed in subdivisions (a) and (b) are of the second degree.”)

[6] See CALCRIM No. 1600.

[7] See People v. Garcia (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1242.

[8] Penal Code 213(a)(1)(B) – (“In all cases other than that specified in subparagraph (A), by imprisonment in the state prison for three, four, or six years.”).

[9] See Penal Code 213(b) – (“Notwithstanding Section 664, attempted robbery in violation of paragraph (2) of subdivision (a) is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison.”).

[10] We represent clients accused of robbery all throughout southern California including the following localities: riverside, Los Angeles, san Fernando, Pasadena, Beverly hills, Santa Monica, Venice, Redondo beach, Hermosa beach, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Ventura.

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