We’ve all watched that scene in a movie where the desperate suspects hold up the unassuming couple in a parking lot for everything they’ve got – only to discover later that it was a toy gun being pressed into their backs. That’s not real life, though, right?
A few days before Christmas, two Starr County women were charged with aggravated robbery after doing just that in a grocery store parking lot. The pair made off with $600 from the unsuspecting couple, and upon locating the getaway vehicle, authorities found nothing more than a toy gun and black gloves inside.
For the victims, the situation ultimately amounted to little more than a tense few moments – the authorities were even able to recover most of their money later. Eventually, it might even become a scary, funny story that they retell over holiday dinners every year.
Unfortunately, that’s probably not the case for the two women who committed the crime. A skilled Ft. Worth robbery lawyer may be able to get their charges and penalties reduced, depending on the facts of the case, but aggravated robbery is an incredibly serious offense in our state.
Why exactly were they charged with aggravated robbery instead of robbery? In this post, we’re going to look at the differences between each.
Defining Robbery and Aggravated Robbery in Texas
The Texas Penal Code explains robbery and aggravated robbery crimes as follows:
Definition of Robbery. Robbery is when a person commits an act of theft and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to the victim or intentionally or knowingly threatens or places the victim in fear of imminent bodily injury or death.
Definition of Aggravated Robbery. The charges may be elevated to aggravated robbery when the perpetrator a) causes serious bodily injury to the victim, b) uses or exhibits a deadly weapon in the course of a robbery or c) commits an act of robbery against an elderly or disabled person.
In other words, the differences between robbery and aggravated robbery in our state boil down to:
- bodily injury vs. serious bodily injury
- if the victim is elderly or disabled
- the use of a deadly weapon
How the Definitions Make for an Aggravated Robbery Charge for the Two Women in the Story Above
Let’s look at each of the aggravating factors alongside the details we have of the Starr County incident.
- Serious bodily injury. As far as we know, the victims weren’t injured at all, let alone seriously. They certainly were placed in fear of imminent bodily injury or death, but no actual injury occurred. Based on that, the first aggravating factor would not apply.
- Elderly or disabled victims. We know the victims were a couple, but their ages are not mentioned. Because of this, we must assume that they were not elderly or disabled, and that this aggravating factor would not apply either.
- The use of a deadly weapon. Here’s where things get tricky. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the “gun” used in the robbery was really just a toy. Obviously, a toy gun is not a deadly weapon.
However, state law typically asks whether a reasonable person could believe that when the robbery took place, the offender possessed a deadly weapon. Scenarios exist in which robbery victims believed a toy gun, a stick, or even a covered hand was a deadly weapon.
This is where the aggravated charge comes from, and a significant amount of attention in the case will likely be spent with the prosecution working to prove that the victims believed the accused had a deadly weapon, while the defense argues that they should have known it was fake.
Because this evidence supports the threat of deadly force along with an item that could potentially be perceived as a deadly weapon, prosecutors are likely to build a strong case around those aggravated robbery charges.
Only a skilled Texas criminal defense attorney will be able to credibly advise on the best defense strategies for fighting robbery charges in this specific situation, but it is possible that their lawyer might attempt a combination of common defense strategies – lack of intent to harm someone plus the argument that the toy gun was not in fact a deadly weapon, for example. Even if the court sides with the defense on that, the defendants will likely need to address the recklessness of their actions.
What is at stake?
How Texas Penalizes Robberies and Aggravated Robberies
While both offenses are classified as felonies, there is a huge difference between the consequences associated with robbery and those attached to an aggravated robbery conviction.
A regular robbery offense is classified as a second-degree felony. If convicted, a perpetrator will face anywhere from two to 20 years in state prison and/or be required to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
That’s bad. Aggravated robbery penalties, however, are significantly worse. Since it is classified as a felony of the first degree, it carries a much heftier sentence – five to 99 years in state prison. Those convicted of aggravated robbery may also be liable to pay a fine of up to $10k.
At the time of sentencing, they judge will consider several factors to determine the appropriate length of jail time: criminal history, whether the offender was the main offender or an accessory, whether the offenders were under great personal stress while committing the crime, whether anyone was actually injured, and if the offenders display remorse or regret.
We can’t be certain what the mindset of the perpetrators was during this alleged crime, but we know one thing for sure – their brief encounter over this past holiday with an innocent couple has likely changed the trajectory of their lives in ways they weren’t thinking about at the time the incident occurred, and they’re going to need all the help they can get to secure a positive outcome.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.