As I move ever closer to the completion of this ‘epic’ case law collection, I am happy to say that I have now finished writing the property law section, and while it’s one of the shorter chapters, the cases studied have been nothing short of diverse, which made a refreshing change from the often narrow English property law cases I have become so accustomed to reading in the past, and during my time as an undergraduate.
All mumblings aside, below is the final list, and I can only hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed studying them over the previous several weeks, while for me it’s now time to get started on the final ‘tort law’ discipline.
Theft without violence or fear of violence upon the victim cannot constitute robbery, as was demonstrated in this simple case of taking without a vendor’s consent in 1931.
Having entered the store of a Buckeye resident at the point of their opening it, the appellant took the opportunity to make off with a bag containing $33 while the shopkeeper was attending another task nearby, after which he was later arrested and confessed to stealing the money.
Indicted in the Superior Court of Maricopa County, the appellant was then charged and convicted of robbery under § 4602 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which read that:
“Robbery is the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear. The fear may be either of an unlawful injury to the person or property of the person robbed, or of a relative or member of his family; or of an immediate and unlawful injury to the person or property of any one in the company of the person robbed at the time of the robbery.”
However the appellant challenged the judgment in the Arizona Supreme Court on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that he had subjected the vendor to any form of physical struggle, or that he had even uttered a single word to him during the act, whereupon the court sought clarification on the definition of robbery, and so turned to the English case of R. v Thomas Gnosil, in which the Court of Assizes had held that:
“[T]he force used must be either before, or at the time of the taking, and must be of such a nature as to shew that it was intended to overpower the party robbed, and prevent his resisting, and not merely to get possession of the property stolen.”
And to State v. Parsons, where the Washington Supreme Court had also held that:
“[I]t is not robbery to merely snatch from the hand or person of another, or to surreptitiously take from another’s pocket, money or some other thing of value, as such taking lacks the element of force, or putting in fear, one or the other of which being essential to constitute the crime of burglary.”
While the court further noted that § 649a of Grigsby’s Criminal Law stated that:
“No sudden taking unawares from the person, even done with force, as by snatching a thing from one’s hand, or out of his pocket, is sufficient to constitute robbery.”
Therefore the court held with considerable certainty that although the vendor had been cause distress as a result of his pecuniary loss, the appellant had on this occasion, been deft enough to avoid confrontation, and so the court reversed the previous judgment and remanded the case back to the superior court while holding that:
“The mere taking of property in possession of another, from his person or immediate presence and against his will, is not robbery. Such taking must be accomplished by force or fear to constitute robbery.”
When an alleged robbery resulted in threatening behaviour, the defendant argued that absence of evidence to support the initial act reduced the charge to one of theft under Indiana State law.
Having stolen five rolls of camera film from a Muncie supermarket, the defendant was seen taking the items by a single witness, who after the defendant had left the store, indirectly notified the store manager, who then confronted the defendant outside on the pavement.
In response to his challenge, the defendant brandished a knife and threatened the manager, after which the manager stood down and retreated back inside the shop, only for the State police to arrest the defendant when he somewhat naively returned to the scene of the crime.
Convicted of robbery before a Delaware Circuit Court jury, the Court of Appeals of Indiana Second District reversed the judgment on grounds that § 35-42-5-1 of the Indiana Code defines robbery as present when:
“A person who knowingly or intentionally takes property from another person or from the presence of another person:
(1) By using or threatening the use of force on any person; or
(2) By putting any person in fear….”
And that in Eckelberry v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court had previously held that:
“The force necessary to constitute robbery must be employed before the property is stolen. If the stealing be first, and the force afterwards, the offense is not robbery, but stealing from the person.”
After which the case was heard again before the Indiana Supreme Court, who reviewed their position with regard to the defendant leaving the property after the threatening behaviour, further noting that in Paul v. State the court had ruled a store clerk as solely responsible for the contents stolen, and so a conviction of robbery could lawfully stand.
It also noted that in Eckelberry, the court had concluded that when the defendant injured their victim immediately after taking their property, the two events were merely equal parts of the same act, therefore the court reversed the appeal court decision and upheld the robbery charge in full.