In Florida, robbery is a serious felony charge. Many people misunderstand the differences among robbery, theft and burglary. A theft generally occurs when you steal something from a person outside of their presence, or not in their possession. If you leave your phone on your desk and go to the bathroom and I take it while you are gone, that would be a theft. A burglary generally involves breaking into a place, or entering a place without authorization, with the intent to commit a theft or other felony therein. If I come into your house through an open window while you are at work and steal your TV, that would be a burglary. A robbery is considered more of a violent crime. It generally involves taking something directly from a person in the person’s presence. If I push you down and steal the bag you are carrying, that is a robbery. Likewise, if I approach you and threaten you with violence if you do not give me your bag, that would also be a robbery.
Actual violence or even physical contact is not necessary for a robbery conviction. Obviously, using the threat of violence or threatening someone with a weapon to take someone’s property is considered robbery. But, there is also a form of robbery referred to as robbery by sudden snatching. This normally involves snatching property from someone’s possession, like grabbing a person around someone’s shoulder or keys from someone’s hands. However, a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida shows that such force is not always necessary for a robbery by sudden snatching conviction.
In that case, the defendant grabbed a cell phone that was on the victim’s lap. The criminal defense lawyer argued this constituted the less serious charge of theft since the victim was not holding or embracing the phone. The appellate court disagreed, and the defendant was convicted of robbery. It appears that the crime of robbery by sudden snatching occurs when a defendant grabs an item that is being carried by the victim or is on the victim. If the defendant grabs an items next to the victim, perhaps where the victim put his bag or phone down on the table or a bench next to the victim, then that would likely be theft rather than robbery. But then again, it probably depends on the circumstances. It is an important distinction as a robbery charge normally yields a more serious sentence than a theft charge.