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What are common defenses for theft and robbery charges?

By Spodek Law Group | October 16, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 17, 2023)

Last Updated on: 17th October 2023, 10:57 pm

Common Defenses for Theft and Robbery Charges

Being charged with theft or robbery can be scary. These crimes carry serious penalties like jail time, fines, probation, and a criminal record. But there are defenses you can use to fight the charges. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand what defenses apply to your specific case. This article will give you an overview of some common defenses for theft and robbery charges.

Theft Defenses

There are a few main defenses that come up often in theft cases:

Claim of Right

This defense argues that you believed you had a right to take or use the property, even if you were mistaken. For example, say you took your neighbor’s lawn mower that looks just like yours, thinking it was actually your mower. Or you thought your roommate said you could borrow her car, but there was just a misunderstanding.

To use this defense, you need to show your belief was honest and reasonable. The prosecutor will try to prove you knew you didn’t have permission to take the property.

Lack of Intent

For a theft conviction, the prosecutor must prove you intended to permanently deprive the owner of their property. With this defense, you argue you did not have that intent.

For example, you borrowed your friend’s jacket and forgot to return it. Or you accidentally put your coworker’s phone in your bag instead of your own. In these cases, you made a mistake or were forgetful – not trying to steal.


Voluntary intoxication is not a complete defense to theft, but in some cases it can be used to argue you did not have the intent required for theft because you were extremely impaired. An experienced lawyer can help you understand when this may apply.

False Accusation

If someone falsely accuses you of theft, your attorney can argue the accuser is not credible. They may be able to show the person has lied in the past, has a grudge against you, or has something to gain by making a false accusation.


If a witness identifies you as the thief but is mistaken, your lawyer can challenge the credibility of the identification. This is especially common when the witness did not get a good look at the perpetrator. Factors like cross-racial identification can also come into play.

Robbery Defenses

Robbery involves taking property by force or threat of force. Some robbery defenses include:

Mistaken Identity

Just like with theft, witnesses can be mistaken when identifying the robber. Your lawyer will closely examine the credibility of any eyewitness testimony. Things like lineups, photo arrays, and cross-racial identification problems can be challenged.

False Accusation

As with theft, people sometimes falsely accuse others of robbery. This is common in domestic violence cases, for example. Your lawyer can argue the accuser has motives to lie or a history of dishonesty.


If you were forced to commit the robbery against your will, this may provide a defense. You have to reasonably believe you or a loved one would face immediate bodily harm or death if you did not comply. An experienced lawyer can help you understand what constitutes duress.

Voluntary Intoxication

As with theft, evidence of intoxication could potentially be used to show you did not have the intent required for robbery. But voluntary intoxication does not completely exonerate you like being involuntarily intoxicated would.


If you have evidence you were somewhere else when the crime occurred, presenting a credible alibi could lead to an acquittal. Things like cell phone records, receipts, photos, videos, and witness statements can help prove your whereabouts.

Fighting Theft and Robbery Charges

As you can see, there are defenses available even for serious charges like robbery and theft. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly investigate your case to determine if any defenses apply. They will also negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or a dismissal whenever possible.

Don’t go through this alone. The consequences for a conviction are too high. Meet with a lawyer as soon as possible after being charged to start building your defense strategy. Every case is different, but an effective lawyer will highlight weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case while presenting evidence and arguments that undermine their ability to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

While mounting a successful defense can be complicated, an experienced attorney can guide you through the process. They will answer all your questions, explain how the law applies to the facts of your case, and clearly lay out your defense options. Don’t leave the outcome to chance – consult an attorney as soon as possible.

Common Theft Charges and Penalties

There are many different theft crimes you can be charged with, depending on the circumstances. Some common theft charges include:

  • Petty Theft – Taking property worth $950 or less. This can be charged as a misdemeanor with up to 6 months in jail.
  • Grand Theft – Taking property worth over $950. This is a felony charge punishable by 16 months – 3 years in prison.
  • Burglary – Entering a building or room to commit theft or a felony. Punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
  • Robbery – Taking property by force or threat of force. Robbery is a felony with up to 5 years in prison.
  • Shoplifting – Stealing merchandise from a store. This can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value.
  • Identity Theft – Stealing someone’s personal identifying information. This is a felony with up to 3 years in prison.
  • Embezzlement – Stealing money or property entrusted to you. Punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

These charges often come with fines, probation, restitution, and other consequences in addition to potential jail time. A conviction can also severely limit job opportunities, professional licensing, housing, and other benefits.

Enhancements Can Increase Penalties

Prosecutors can add “enhancements” that increase penalties if certain facts are present. Common theft enhancements include:

  • Prior theft convictions
  • Value of property exceeds $65,000
  • Victim was elderly or disabled
  • Crime committed while on bail or probation

Enhancements can turn a misdemeanor charge into a felony or add additional years to a felony prison sentence.

Restitution Is Usually Required

In addition to fines and jail time, the court will likely order you to pay restitution to compensate the victim for their loss. This covers things like:

  • Value of stolen property
  • Repairs for vandalism or damage during theft
  • Medical expenses if victim was injured

Not paying restitution can result in probation violations, extended probation, or civil collections against you.

Probation Is Common for Theft

Many theft convictions result in probation instead of or in addition to jail time. Probation comes with strict conditions like:

  • Reporting to a probation officer
  • Drug testing
  • Warrantless search and seizure
  • Mandatory classes or counseling
  • Community service

Violating probation can lead to more charges and jail time.

Your Record Can Be Cleared with Expungement

If convicted of theft, you may be able to have your records cleared through expungement after completing your sentence. This can help restore your rights and improve job opportunities. An attorney can advise you if expungement is an option in your case.

Defenses Can Fight the Charges

Don’t just accept the charges against you – meet with an attorney to explore defenses that may apply in your case. Even for serious allegations, an experienced lawyer may find ways to get charges reduced or dismissed. Defending yourself against theft allegations is critical to avoiding devastating consequences that can follow you for years.

What is Robbery?

Robbery is taking property from another person by force or threat of force. It involves theft plus violence or intimidation against the victim.

Robbery charges often stem from crimes like:

  • Mugging
  • Purse snatching
  • Bank robbery
  • Carjacking
  • Home invasion
  • Armed robbery

Like theft, robbery can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on circumstances like value of property taken.

Penalties for Robbery Are Harsh

Robbery is viewed as a violent crime against a person, not just a property crime. Penalties are severe:

  • Armed robbery – 3, 6, or 9 years in prison
  • Robbery with weapon or injury – 2, 3, or 5 years in prison
  • Basic robbery – 1 year in county jail

Probation is rarely offered for robbery charges. Enhancements for things like prior felonies or gang involvement can add additional years in prison.

Common Robbery Defenses

Fighting a robbery charge starts with examining possible defenses with your attorney. Common robbery defenses include:

  • Misidentification – Witnesses mistakenly identify the wrong person. Cross-racial ID is unreliable.
  • Alibi – Cell records, receipts, photos prove you were elsewhere during crime.
  • False accusations – Victim lies to police out of anger, jealousy, or mental illness.
  • Intoxication – You were involuntarily intoxicated and lacked criminal intent.
  • Duress – You only committed the crime under immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate which defenses might apply to your specific case.

Proving Self-Defense

If you are accused of robbery but acted in self-defense, your attorney can argue you are not guilty. To prove self-defense, you generally must show:

  • You reasonably believed you were in imminent danger of harm
  • You used an appropriate level of force
  • You were not the initial aggressor

This can be complicated to prove, so legal advice is critical.

Robbery Convictions Can Be Avoided

The stakes are high when facing robbery allegations given the steep penalties. But an effective defense is possible. An attorney can challenge flawed eyewitness identifications, raise doubts about the victim’s credibility, uncover proof of your innocence, and demonstrate legal defenses like self-defense or duress. Don’t go through this alone – experienced representation is key.

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