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Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Explains: Robbery in Virginia

Robbery is a common law felony in Virginia. Virginia Code Section 18.2-58.

The elements of robbery are:

  • taking property from the person of another or from their presence
  • with the intent to steal
  • against their will
  • through the use of violence, threat, or intimidation.

It is not necessary for the victim of the robbery to be the owner of the property.  It is enough that they have a superior possessory interest.  This means if you enter a convenience store, brandish a firearm at the clerk, and take a case of beer you have committed a robbery.  It does not matter if the store clerk personally owned the beer - they have a superior possessory interest over all customers until the beer is lawfully purchased.  And it does not matter the beer was not on the person of the clerk, for the clerk has constructive possession of all of the goods in the store.

Juveniles often find themselves in trouble for robbery.  A pretty common fact pattern involves knocking down a fellow teen in order to steal their phone, or shoes.  This may not seem like a big deal to a 16-year-old, but a conviction for a crime such as robbery can impact the rest of their entire life, in a very negative way.  Even for adults, a minor shoplifting offense can quickly escalate into a robbery if violence or intimidation plays a role.

In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly dramatically changed the range of punishment for robbery.  Previously, any robbery was punishable by a term of imprisonment of Life, or any term not less than 5 years.  Today, however, there are multiple ranges of punishment depending on the "type" of robbery committed:

  • Any robbery that causes serious bodily injury or death is punishable as a Class 2 felony, meaning a term of imprisonment of Life, or a term not less than 20 years. There is no mandatory minimum, however.
    • "Serious bodily injury" means bodily injury that involves substantial risk of death, extreme physical pain, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ or mental faculty. 
  • Any robbery that involves using or displaying a firearm in a threatening manner is punishable as a Class 3 felony, meaning imprisonment for a term not less than 5 years nor more than 20 years.
    • "Firearm" means any handgun, shotgun, or rifle that will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material. Section 18.2-308.2:2. This definition is incorporated by referenced into the robbery statute.
    • The definition of a "firearm" for purposes of punishment for robbery is set forth above. However, the definition of a "firearm" for Use of a Firearm While Committing a Felony, like Robbery, under Section 18.2-53.1 is different.  Under that statute, all that is required is that the item appear to be a firearm.
    • A person can be charged with Robbery and Use of a Firearm While Committing Robbery.    
  • Any robbery that involves the use of physical force not resulting in serious bodily injury or by using or displaying a deadly weapon other than a firearm is punishable as a Class 5 felony, meaning a term of imprisonment not to exceed 10 years.
  • If a robbery is committed by threat or intimidation or any others means not involving a deadly weapon, the penalty is a Class 6 felony, meaning imprisonment not to exceed 5 years.

In 1993, the Virginia General Assembly decided to enhance the punishment one receives when a robbery involves taking a car.  Therefore, carjacking in Virginia is punishable by a term of imprisonment up to Life or any term not less than 15 years.  There is no mandatory minimum for the offense.  This means it is possible that the 15-year minimum is suspended conditioned upon successful completion of a probationary term.

To read more about Violent Crimes, click here.  

When knowledge, skill and experience matter most to you, trust in a seasoned criminal trial attorney.  If you are in need of representation, Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney George Freeman will gladly meet with you to discuss your case.  

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