Is the crime of armed robbery considered theft?

armed-robberyTheft is a term that often encompasses many property crimes, such as larceny, embezzlement, armed robbery, shoplifting, fraud, and others.  Generally, it is the taking of someone’s property without that person’s consent.  In a theft, the property can be movable, like a purse, or immovable, like the taking of land by illegally deeding another’s property to oneself.

The more specific crime to which theft often refers is larceny, which is a common law crime that involves the unlawful taking and carrying away of someone else’s personal property with the intent to deprive the possessor of it permanently.  Some states have not codified a specific statutory definition of larceny, so the common law still applies.

Larceny requires an act (actus reus) and a level of knowledge (mens rea) that is required for the crime.  The prosecutor must show that the defendant has both:

a) carried out the action of taking and carrying away another’s property; and in addition,
b) has done so with the intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently.

Taking and carrying away another’s purse by mistake, therefore, would not be a crime until the taker realizes it is not hers and yet still decides to keep it.

Many states have lumped all of the theft crimes under one statute that specifies all of the different ways that one can commit theft—for example, by deception, by extortion (threat), or by mistake, as in the example above.  Grading then depends on the value or type of property stolen.  For instance, the Model Penal Code indicates that theft is a third degree felony if the amount stolen exceeds $500, or if the stolen property is a firearm, automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motor boat, or other motor-propelled vehicle.  In some states this is referred to as “grand theft.”  Theft of lesser value or outside of these categories is considered a misdemeanor and is sometimes referred to as “petty theft.”

One is guilty of theft if he or she is the taker of the property. However, the person receiving the stolen property can also be guilty of theft.  If the receiver knows that the property is stolen, he is also within the scope of theft unless he intends to give the property back to its original, rightful owner.

One can also be guilty of theft by omission; in other words, if someone has received property for which they are contractually obligated to pay, and he or she intentionally fails to make the required payments, it is a theft.

Theft stretches from the very obvious act of taking a person’s wallet from his jacket, to more complex crimes of identity theft, falsification of accounts, corporate embezzlement, and so on.

Theft should not be confused with “robbery,” which involves the use of force, intimidation, or violence in the course of committing a theft.  For example, one can commit theft without ever even coming into contact with another person.  For robbery, on the other hand, the defendant must meet the elements of a theft, and in addition, he must have:

(a) inflicted serious bodily injury upon another; or
(b) threatened another with or purposely put him in fear of immediate serious bodily injury; or
(c) committed or threatened immediately to commit any felony of the first or second degree (which will vary by state).

The grading and possible sentencing of a robbery is generally more serious than that of theft.  In many states robbery is a second degree felony and can rise to a first degree felony depending on whether bodily harm was inflicted, or what degree of force was used.

Armed robbery is a more serious offense and involves the use of a weapon or the pretense of having a weapon.

Defenses for theft are often unique to the circumstances and facts of the case.  The “true owner” defense is sometimes raised with regard to theft, whereby the defendant may argue that he believed in good faith that he is the true and rightful owner of the taken property.  Rare contextual circumstances may lead to other similar defenses. Robbery and armed robbery defenses may be one and the same as theft defenses, or a defendant may try to rebut evidence that he used force, intimidation, or violence in the commission of the theft.

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