Robbery is a serious, violent crime that typically results in sentences involving actual custody. The offence is found in section 411 of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) and carries penalties up to life imprisonment.
The offence can capture incidents like muggings, all the way up to violent home invasions and store ‘hold-ups’.
What do the prosecution have to prove?
For the charge to be made out, section 409 states that the prosecution must prove the following ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’:
- That the defendant stole something;
- That at the time of, or immediately before, or immediately after, stealing it, the defendant used or threatened to use actual violence to any person or property.
In simple terms, robbery can be considered as an act of stealing, where violence is used to obtain the property.
Importantly, actual violence is not necessary. Robberies often occur where an offender simply threatens the victim, sometimes with weapons but words alone can be enough.
Being charged as a party
Robberies are often carried out by multiple offenders. Even if only one of those persons uses or threatens violence, the other individuals involved may be liable for the offence of robbery. This is referred to being criminally responsible as a party to an offence. There are different ways a person can be liable to an offence as a party, but will often involve aiding or assisting the principal offender or by forming what is called a ‘joint criminal enterprise’ for another offence, such as stealing, where the use of violence by one of the members was foreseeable.
For example, a person would be guilty of robbery if they drove the principal offender to and from a store with the knowledge that they would hold up the shopkeeper for money. In this case, they would have assisted the principal offender commit the offence.
Robbery is one of the most common charges where defendants are charged as parties. Party liability can be a very complex issue.
Identification of offenders
As with any offence, the prosecution must of course prove that the defendant was actually the person who committed the offence. In robbery matters, the offender is often unknown to the victim, so the prosecution must rely on forensic evidence or other means to identify the offender. A common way to challenge robbery offences is to test the reliability of the identification evidence.
What are the usual penalties?
Sentences for robbery almost always result in periods of actual imprisonment. In the rare situations where defendants avoid actual jail, they are typically very young (aged 18 or 19) and the violence involved is minimal.
Serious examples of robberies can result in sentences well in excess of 5 years imprisonment, requiring lengthy periods of custody to be served before parole can be achieved.
What negotiations can be made?
At a trial, the defence case would usually be either:
- that the defendant was not involved in the offence (by challenging the identification evidence); or
- that their involvement or conduct was not enough to amount to robbery.
Due to the serious nature of the offence, it can be difficult to negotiate with the prosecution about alternative charges. However, sometimes a charge of robbery can be reduced simply to a charge of assault or assault with intent to steal. In these cases, the charge would no longer need to proceed to the District Court and lesser sentences would usually be imposed.
Due to the seriousness and complexity of the offence, any individual charged with robbery should seek expert advice from a criminal lawyer as early as possible. Likewise, their rights to silence should be exercised. Giving an interview to police could potentially implicate a person where police otherwise wouldn’t have sufficient evidence.
What Courts can the offence be heard in?
A charge of robbery must proceed on indictment, in the District Court of Queensland.