While the images that come to mind when we hear either term may be different, there’s actually a very thin line between theft and robbery crimes. Sometimes offenders were never even planning to cross it, but when they do, it makes a world of difference in the consequences one may face.
Take one Colorado Springs suspect, for instance, who may have thought the home he was attempting to break into was empty. Not only did he get a huge surprise when the homeowner held him at gunpoint until police arrived, the small knife he was carrying (possibly as a tool to get into the home for simple theft), may now be viewed by prosecutors as a weapon to commit robbery.
In today’s post, we will review how Colorado defines theft and robbery, the difference between the two, and how these crimes are distinguished when it’s a close call.
Colorado Theft Laws
According to Colorado law, theft occurs when the defendant “knowingly obtains or exercises control over” anything of value belonging to another party without permission, and:
- Has the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property
- Knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property, or
- Demands payment he is not owed as a condition of returning the property
Theft is sentenced and penalized based on the monetary value of the stolen property and can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- Under $500: Class 2 Misdemeanor punishable by 3-12 months in prison and a $250-$1,000 fine.
- $500-$1000: Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by 6-18 months in prison and a $500-$5,000 fine
- $1,000-$20,000: Class 4 Felony punishable by 2-6 years of imprisonment with a minimum three years parole, and a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
- $20,000+: Class 3 Felony punishable by 4-12 years of imprisonment with minimum of five years parole and a fine of $3,000-$750,000.
If the defendant has prior theft offenses, enhanced sentencing and penalties will apply. Further, certain circumstances can also lead to enhanced sentencing and penalties.
For instance, if property valued under a thousand dollars is taken directly from another person without the use of force or intimidation, it is considered a Class 5 Felony punishable by 1-3 years imprisonment.
In cases where a thief does use the threat of force in the commission of a theft crime, this is considered robbery – here’s where the line between theft and robbery can become very thin, and even open to interpretation in some cases.
Colorado Robbery Laws
Simply put, robbery is a form of theft in which the defendant uses actual force or the threat of
force to steal something.
For theft to be considered robbery, two elements must be included: the victim must be present at the time of the offense, and the defendant must employ some form of force or intimidation.
However, no physical contact or weapon of any kind is necessary in every case deemed robbery – only the threat.
How’s that for gray area? Interpretation can be extremely important when it comes time for sentencing and penalties following a robbery conviction:
- Robbery, non-aggravated: Class 4 Felony punishable by 2-6 years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
- Aggravated robbery: Class 3 Felony punishable by 4-12 years of imprisonment and a fine of $3,000-$750,000.
- Aggravated robbery of a controlled substance: Class 2 Felony punishable by 8-24 years of imprisonment and a fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.
Theft or Robbery – What Will It Be in Colorado?
When the line between theft and robbery is blurred, an experienced Colorado criminal attorney can be an invaluable guide in navigating these murky waters and ensuring the best possible outcome.
Let’s say property was stolen directly from a victim. The crime is classified as theft unless the defendant used force or the threat of force. Because the threat of force is to some degree open to interpretation, these cases can become messy fast.
To bring a robbery charge, the prosecution will talk to the defendant, victim, and witnesses, and look for any evidence that the defendant made threats to the victim.
In turn, a good attorney can cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence that the defendant used force or threatened the alleged victim, or find evidence that the defendant didn’t threaten the victim, decreasing the charge to theft. A good attorney may also be able to cast doubt on whether the alleged crime happened at all.
If you are facing charges yet to be determined as theft or robbery, don’t wait to reach out to someone who knows how to help. It could mean the difference between misdemeanor charges and years behind bars.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.