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Armed Robbery Charges In Michigan: Legal Grounds And Defenses

An armed robbery is one of the worse criminal offenses that can be committed in the State of Michigan. It tends to physically and mentally traumatize its victims (assuming they survive the experience) and destroy any sense of security that they might have had. It is often a high-profile crime that draws media attention and puts the entire community on alert. One should expect that, if convicted of this horrible crime, they will likely spend several decades in state prison.

An individual is guilty of armed robbery in Michigan, contrary to MCL 257.529, if the prosecutor can prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt (See Model Criminal Jury Instruction 18.1):

  • First, the defendant used force or violence against, or assaulted, or put in fear another person. An "assault" is either an attempt to commit a battery on another person or did an act that would cause a reasonable person to fear or apprehend an immediate battery. The victim need not be the owner or rightful possessor of the property taken. He or she can be "any person who is present" while the defendant was in the course of committing the underlying larceny.
  • Second, the defendant did so while he or she was in the course of committing a larceny. A "larceny" is the taking and movement of someone else's property or money with the intent to take it away from that person permanently. "[T]he intent to permanently deprive includes the retention of property without the purpose to return it within a reasonable time or the retention of property with the intent to return the property on the condition that the owner pay some compensation for its return." People v Harverson, 291 Mich App 171, 178; 804 NW2d 757 (2010). "In the course of committing a larceny" includes acts that occur in an attempt to commit the larceny, or during the commission of the larceny, or in flight or attempted flight after the commission of the larceny, or in an attempt to retain possession of the property or money.
  • Third, the victim was present while defendant was in the course of committing the larceny.
  • Fourth, that while in the course of committing the larceny, the defendant did one of the following:
  1. Possessed a weapon designed to be dangerous and capable of causing death or serious injury; or
  2. Possessed any other object capable of causing death or serious injury that the defendant used as a weapon; or
  3. Possessed any other object used or fashioned in a manner to lead the person who was present to reasonably believe that it was a dangerous weapon. A "dangerous weapon" is any object that is used in a way that is likely to cause serious physical injury or death, or
  4. Represented orally or otherwise that he or she was in possession of a weapon.

The penalties for armed robbery are as follows:

  • A felony conviction punishable by life in prison or any term of years.
  • If an aggravated assault or serious injury is inflicted by any person while committing an armed robbery, then that person shall be sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than two years.

The armed robbery statute was amended effective July 1st, 2004 to encompass a "transactional approach" to this offense. Originally, the Michigan Supreme Court determined that "robbery at common law required a taking from the person accomplished by an earlier or contemporaneous application, or threat, of force or violence; however, if force was used later to retain the property, no robbery occurred." People v Scruggs, 256 Mich App 303; 662 NW2d 849 (2003). Unsatisfied with this result, the Michigan Legislature amended the statute to include any force or violence used to attempt to commit the larceny, to actually commit the larceny, to flee from the larceny with the property, or to retain possession of the property stolen.

Conviction of armed robbery requires a finding that the defendant was armed either with a dangerous weapon or with an article used or fashioned in such a way as to lead a reasonable person to believe that it was a dangerous weapon at the time of the robbery. The prosecutor is also permitted to use circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom to prove the elements of a crime. In People v Jolly, 442 Mich 458, 502 NW2d 177 (1993), an Arby's employee testified that the defendant, in the course of a robbery, threatened to shoot and kill him unless he complied with a demand to turn over money. However, the defendant never actually displayed the gun but implied the weapon's presence with a bulge in his vest. The jury found the defendant guilty, but the Michigan Court of Appeals vacated the conviction for lack of evidence of an actual weapon. However, the Michigan Supreme Court reinstated the conviction and held that "the existence of the bulge objectively supported submission of the 'armed' robbery question to the jury for a determination based on all the circumstances rather than solely on the size and position of the bulge." Id at 471.

If you are charged with armed robbery, there are some legal defenses available to you under the law:

  • Mistaken Defense or Alibi: The defendant may present evidence that he or she was in another location when the armed robbery occurred so he or she was falsely identified.

  • Self-Defense: Armed robbery may be justified under circumstances where you were trying to disarm another person by force to protect yourself or others. "An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses force other than deadly force may use force other than deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if he or she honestly and reasonably believes that the use of that force is necessary to defend himself or herself or another individual from the imminent unlawful use of force by another individual." MCL 780.972(2).
  • Intoxication: Armed robbery is a specific intent crime as it requires proof that the defendant intended to commit a larceny. Generally, voluntary intoxication is not a defense to a general intent crime. However, a specific intent crime (e.g. armed robbery) "charged cannot be committed unless the actor entertained a specific intent (e.g. larceny) at the time the crime was committed, he is not guilty if he did not entertain that intent by reason of intoxication." People v Kelley, 21 Mich App 612; 176 NW2d 435 (1970).
  • Duress: Armed robbery may be justified on the basis of duress if the defendant can present some evidence where the jury can conclude the following: "A) the threatening conduct was sufficient to create in the mind of a reasonable person the fear of death or serious bodily harm; B) the conduct in fact caused such fear of death or seriously bodily harm in the mind of the defendant; C) the fear or duress was operating upon the mind of the defendant at the time of the alleged act; and D) the defendant committed the act to avoid the threatened harm." People v Lemons, 454 Mich 234, 247; 562 NW2d 447 (1997). Furthermore, the defendant must present some evidence that the threat was present and imminent, that the threat did not arise from the negligence or fault of the defendant, and that the defendant did not fail to use a reasonable opportunity to escape.
  • Double Jeopardy: A defendant's convictions of both armed robbery and the lesser included offenses of larceny of property with a value over $100 and of larceny in a building cannot be allowed to stand as a violation of the defendant's protection against double jeopardy. People v Jankowski, 408 Mich 79; 289 NW2d 674 (1980). A conviction and sentence for both first-degree felony murder and the underlying felony of armed robbery violates the state constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. People v Wilder, 411 Mich 328; 308 NW2d 112 (1981).

The consequences for an armed robbery conviction can potentially forfeit the rest of your life in a prison cell. The assistance of a skilled criminal defense lawyer is absolutely necessary to protect your freedom and your rights. If you or a loved one is charged with armed robbery or any criminal defense, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.

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