Robbery in the First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree in New York City Criminal Court
By Don Murray, Esq., New York City criminal defense lawyer, founding partner of shalley and murray
New York State currently divides robbery into three major categories: First Degree, Second Degree, and Third Degree.
Robbery in the First Degree is a class B violent felony in New York. This is the most serious form of robbery and it carries a 25 year maximum prison term upon conviction and a five year mandatory minimum, even for someone who has never so much as been arrested before. Robbery in the First Degree includes what most people imagine when they think of robberies: a gunpoint robbery of a store clerk or bank teller.
Robbery in the Second Degree is a class C violent felony. This is the second most serious form of robbery and it carries a 15 year maximum prison term upon conviction and a 3 1/2 year mandatory minimum (for someone with no prior convictions). Robbery in the Second Degree might be called "group robbery" because its most frequent form comes when multiple people are accused of working together to commit a robbery.
Robbery in the Third Degree is a class D non-violent felony. This is the least serious form of robbery in New York, although it still carries a maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison upon conviction. Robbery in the Third Degree is considered a "non-violent" felony offense for purposes of sentencing in New York, even though it may involve some actual violence.
Loosely and generally, robbery in New York is the use of force to illegally obtain someone else's property. Depending on how much force is used (or threatened) and what is used to do the forcing, the robbery is more or less serious.
Most people imagine a masked gunman demanding money from a store clerk or bank teller when they imagine a "robbery". While this "classic" idea of robbery is certainly an example of something that might well be classified as a robbery in New York State, a much wider set of situations is also included in the New York State laws on robbery, including many situations that people might dismiss as "not that serious".
For example, many people seem to be under the impression that the law recognizes some kind of "just kids being stupid" exception to the laws of robbery. Young people (especially junior high and high school students) often engage in unwise, childish, sometimes bullying behavior that can and often does end up with someone being arrested for "robbery".
Schoolyard bullies often commit acts that the laws of New York might well describe as violent felonies for which they could be treated as adults by the criminal justice system. The school bully who pushes another student to the ground and then takes his milk money (or notebook, or hat, etc.) has quite likely committed at least Robbery in the Third Degree. If one of the bully's friends kept a lookout while he did it, they both may be guilty in New York of Robbery in the Second Degree and both may face 15 years in prison as adults (even if they are only 16 years old).
Parents in such situations are often amazed and horrified to discover that such "routine" school behavior can result in someone facing 15 years in prison. Parents may feel that since such incidents likely occur on a regular basis in schools around the world, their child is being unfairly singled out for prosecution.
But the fact remains that there is no "just kids being stupid" exception or defense to the robbery statutes in New York. It may well seem unfair that only a few students may end up being prosecuted, but that is what happens.
The District Attorneys Offices in New York City take robbery cases very seriously. Anyone charged with a robbery needs to take it very seriously as well.
Robbery charges are among the big leagues of criminal charges.
Especially in allegations of "group" robbery, there are frequently serious issues as to whether a person is truly guilty of the robbery. The police tend to err on the side of making arrests when there is a debate about whether a person was just "watching" or was in fact being a lookout. The sense of law enforcement in these circumstances seems to be an attitude of "arrest them all and let the Court sort it out."
There are also frequently serious identification issues in robbery cases. Despite what people like to believe, human beings are horrible at making accurate identifications, and people identified on the street after a robbery often find themselves in the terrible situation of being wrongly accused of robbery. The fact that a person is not found with any of the stolen property and the fact that the a person does not fully match the initial description of the robber do not stop the police from making arrests when there is an on the street identification. A person so mistakenly identified needs a criminal lawyer immediately to begin the process of mounting an appropriate defense.
If someone you care about has been charged with robbery of any degree in New York City, you need a criminal defense lawyer. It's that simple.