We have all watched that scene in a movie where the desperate suspects hold up the unassuming couple in a parking lot for everything they have got – only to discover later that it was a toy gun being pressed into their backs. That is 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 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 is 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 are going to look at the differences between each.
Breaking Down Robbery Laws In Texas
The Texas Penal Code explains robbery and aggravated robbery crimes as follows:
Definition of Robbery. Under Texas Penal Code, Section 29.02, 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. Under Texas Penal Code, Section 29.03, 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 boils down to:
- Bodily injury vs. seriousbodily injury – bodily injury is defined as contact that results in pain. Bruising and scratches are not required in order of the prosecutor to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt but failure to provide some proof of injury makes the case much weaker for the prosecutor. Serious bodily injury is defined as an injury that causes a permanent or protracted loss of use of a bodily member or organ. Minor injuries will not qualify. Examples of serious bodily injury include permanently crippled, blindness, deafness, paralysis, inability to use an arm or leg in the same capacity as before the alleged crime.
- If the victim is elderly or disabled – Under Texas Penal Code, Section 29.03(a)(3), an elderly person is defined as a person that is 65 years of age or older at the time of the offense and a disabled person is defined as an individual with a mental, physical, or developmental disability who is substantially unable to protect himself from harm.
- The use of a deadly weapon – in order to sustain a conviction of aggravated robbery, the State of Texas must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you used a deadly weapon during the crime. Under Texas criminal law, a Deadly Weapon is defined as ANYTHING that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death. For example, a pencil, if attempting to stab someone in the eye, could be considered a deadly weapon under Texas criminal law.
Aggravated Robbery In Texas
Let us look at each of the aggravating factors alongside the details we have of the Starr County incident we detailed above.
- Serious bodily injury.As far as we know, the victims were not 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, Texas criminal 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 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 compelling 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 need to address the recklessness of their actions.
What is at stake?
What Is The Punishment For Aggravated Robbery In Texas?
While both robbery and aggravated robbery are classified as felonies, there is an enormous 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 is 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 were during this alleged crime, but we know one thing for sure – their brief encounter over that 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.
Is It Possible To Beat An Aggravated Robbery Charge?
If you have been arrested and charged with aggravated robbery in Fort Worth or a surrounding city in Tarrant County, Texas, you need the assistance of an experienced and aggressive aggravated robbery lawyer that has a proven track record of providing favorable results for their clients. After hiring your criminal defense attorney, you need to also focus on understanding your criminal defenses to the crime of aggravated robbery.
First, you must remember that you have no burden to prove anything. At all times, the State of Texas, through the prosecutor, must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove the elements of the crime will result in a not guilty verdict at a jury trial.
Is It Possible To Be Charged With Aggravated Robbery When Nobody Was Hurt?
Yes. You can be charged and convicted of aggravated robbery in Texas if you used a deadly weapon and the use of the weapon placed the alleged victim in fear of serious bodily injury or death. Notice, this opens up the possibility of being charged with aggravated robbery based upon someone’s subjective opinion regarding the event.
For example, someone could be attempting to take property from the victim and the victim sees that they have a gun in their bag or pocket, and it immediately creates a fear of serious bodily injury or death. There is a fine line between a misdemeanor charge of Theft and an Aggravated Robbery charge. If you have a weapon on your person and a theft takes place, the police are likely to believe the story of the victim because of the theft and you could end up facing an aggravated robbery charge.
What happens if there was an assault with a weapon, but no property was taken? In order for an aggravated robbery to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor must prove that you intentionally or knowingly obtained or attempted to obtain the property of the owner and intended to permanently deprive them of the property without the owner’s effective consent. If an assault took place with a weapon but a theft did not occur, the charge would be lowered to a lesser charge of Assault or Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.
Finally, the best aggravated robbery lawyers know that a serious felony case requires an immediate analysis of the facts and an opportunity to prepare an evidence packet for presentation to a grand jury.
A grand jury is a Texas Constitution requirement mandating every felony case in Texas must be indicted. An indictment indicates that a grand jury determined there was probable cause present to charge the accused with a felony crime. However, if you have glaring weaknesses in your aggravated robbery charge, your criminal defense attorney can make a presentation to a Tarrant County grand jury and have the charge considered for dismissal.
More specifically, a grand jury has the following options:
- True Bill – a true bill is an approval by the grand jury that the facts presented were sufficient to establish a felony crime. Make certain that your criminal lawyer provides a presentation to the grand jury. If your criminal attorney does not provide an evidence packet to the grand jury, they will only hear one side of the evidence from the prosecutor and approve the case as a felony.
- Lower To A Lesser Charge – if your criminal attorney provides an evidence packet establishing a felony crime was not committed, the grand jury may lower the charge to a lesser misdemeanor offense. For example, if the grand jury learned that a theft took place but there was little to no evidence of an assault, the aggravated robbery charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor theft charge.
- No Bill – a no bill is complete dismissal of the charges by the charges. Essentially, a no bill is an exoneration of all charges by the grand jury, which makes you eligible for an expunction of all arrest and case records.
If you have been arrested and charged with aggravated robbery in Fort Worth or a surrounding city in North Texas, do not hesitate to contact The Hampton Law Firm for a free case analysis.
The Hampton Law Firm is a team of Former Prosecutors with over 90 years of criminal law experience and over five hundred criminal jury trials in the courts of Texas. We stand ready to defend your freedom, your future, and your good name. Call us now at 817-877-5200
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.