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The Federal Crime of Bank Robbery – 18 U.S.C. § 2113

By Spodek Law Group | February 14, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 18, 2023)

Last Updated on: 18th October 2023, 09:02 am


The Federal Crime of Bank Robbery – 18 U.S.C. § 2113

Bank robbery is no joke. It’s a serious federal crime that can land you in prison for up to 20 years. Let’s break down the law and talk about what it really means to rob a bank.

The Basics

18 U.S.C. § 2113 is the federal statute that makes bank robbery a crime. It says that anyone who takes or tries to take money or property from a bank by force, violence, or intimidation is guilty of bank robbery. You don’t actually have to use a weapon or threaten someone for it to be considered bank robbery. Just entering a bank and demanding money is enough.

The law covers all kinds of financial institutions, not just typical banks. Credit unions, savings and loans, even check cashing stores can be considered “banks” under this statute. As long as the business is insured by the FDIC or NCUA, it’s covered.

Bank robbery is a federal crime prosecuted by the FBI and U.S. attorneys. It’s separate from any state laws against robbery, extortion, larceny, etc. So you can be charged and convicted under both federal and state laws for the same crime.


The penalties for bank robbery depend on exactly what you did:

  • Robbing a bank using force, violence, or intimidation is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.
  • Robbing a bank while assaulting someone or jeopardizing lives by using a dangerous weapon can result in up to 25 years.
  • Causing death or kidnapping during a bank robbery can lead to life in prison or even the death penalty.
  • Robbing a bank without using force (like slipping a note to a teller) has a maximum sentence of 1 year.

In addition to prison time, bank robbers often face hefty fines up to $250,000. Any stolen money or property must also be returned.

The penalties are harsh because bank robbery is considered a “crime of violence” under federal law. The FBI even classifies it as a “priority one” matter. When a bank is robbed, they pull out all the stops to catch the perpetrator.

Federal Defenses

So what defenses can you raise against a federal bank robbery charge? There are a few options:

  • Duress – Claim you only robbed the bank because someone threatened your life if you didn’t. This is a very difficult defense to prove.
  • Necessity – Argue you only robbed the bank out of necessity to provide for basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, or medical care for yourself or family.
  • Diminished capacity – If you have a documented mental disease or defect, you may be able to show you lacked the capacity to form criminal intent.
  • Intoxication – Show you were involuntarily intoxicated at the time of the robbery and unable to appreciate the criminality of your conduct.

These defenses occasionally work in state court, but federal judges and juries tend to take a pretty dim view of bank robbery regardless of the circumstances. Your best bet is probably to plead guilty and cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Recent Examples

Bank robbery isn’t as common as it used to be, but it still happens. Here are some notable recent cases:

  • In 2021, a man robbed a bank in Colorado just by passing a note to the teller demanding money. He was quickly identified and arrested. Because no weapon was used, he only faces about 1 year in prison.
  • The “Burberry Bandit” went on a bank robbing spree across the Northeast in 2021. He earned the nickname for his stylish Burberry plaid coat. The FBI eventually caught and charged him with robbing 4 banks and attempting to rob 3 more.
  • A Texas man made headlines last year when he allegedly robbed a bank to pay for his dog’s $10,000 surgery. He told the teller he was desperate because his dog would die without the money. He was caught soon after.

As these cases show, bank robbery remains a problem even if the techniques aren’t as sophisticated as in the past. Desperate people still see it as a quick way to get cash, even if the consequences are severe.

Is it Ever Justified?

Given the harsh penalties, you might wonder if bank robbery is ever morally justifiable. Some have argued that stealing from insured banks isn’t really “stealing” or that it’s okay to break the law for a greater good. Others see bank robbers as modern day “Robin Hoods.”

But the overwhelming consensus is that bank robbery is a serious crime that should be condemned. Even if you don’t physically hurt anyone, you traumatize innocent bank employees and endanger lives. There are always better solutions than taking the law into your own hands, regardless of your circumstances. While bank robbers in movies seem heroic, in real life they usually end up in handcuffs. It’s a foolish way to try to solve your problems.

The Future

Bank robbery may seem like a dying breed of crime, but don’t expect it to disappear completely. As long as banks exist, there will be people desperate enough to rob them. And with the sophisticated technology used in banks today, would-be robbers have a lot working against them. Vaults filled with cash are largely a thing of the past. Dye packs, GPS trackers, and other security measures make the average score pretty low.

That won’t stop some from trying. But with the FBI’s robust response and the long prison sentences, bank robbery remains a very high-risk, low-reward crime that hopefully we’ll see less of in the years to come. The romanticized days of gangsters with tommy guns are over. Bank robbery today is a one-way ticket to federal prison.

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