Armed robbery is an aggravated form of theft. The offence of armed robbery involves situations where an accused is alleged to have committed a robbery and at the time had with them a firearm, imitation firearm, offensive weapon, explosive or imitation explosive with them.
What differentiates a charge of armed robbery from other dishonesty offences such as theft or burglary, is that it has an inherently violent nature, even where only a threat of violence occurs. Armed robbery is a very serious offence for which the normal punishment is an immediate, and potentially lengthy, term of imprisonment if you are found guilty.
Armed robbery is an indictable offence, which means that it is triable by a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. It carries level 2 (25 year) imprisonment as a maximum penalty, which is the second highest maximum penalty behind life imprisonment.
This offence can only be heard in the County or Supreme Court as it is a strictly indictable charge which means it can not be heard summarily in the Magistrates’ Court.
Armed Robbery: Elements of the offence
Section 75A of the Crimes Act 1958 defines the elements that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt to satisfy a charge of armed robbery:
A person will be guilty of armed robbery where:
- They commit any robbery;
- And at the time have with them a firearm, imitation firearm, offensive weapon, explosive or imitation explosive.
It is a two-step process to satisfy a charge of armed robbery. The elements of this charge, in essence, is firstly where a person commits any robbery (that is a theft with violence) and secondly, at the time has with them one of the items listed above.
The offence of robbery is set out in section 75 of the Crimes Act 1958. To prove this offence, the Prosecution must establish beyond reasonable doubt the following elements:
The first element the Prosecution must prove is that the accused committed a theft (stole something). A person steals if he or she dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another and does so with the intention of permanently depriving the other of the property. An intention to temporarily deprive the owner of his or her property is not enough to meet the elements required of a theft.
The accused either:
- Used force on any person; or
- Put any person in fear that the accused or another person would, then and there, be subject to the use of force; or
- Sought to put any person in fear that he or she or another person would, then and there, be subject to the use of force.
Whilst committing the act of theft, there needs to be present an aggravating feature that is violent in nature. The Prosecution must prove that the victim parted with the property taken as a result of the violence or a threat of violence by the accused.
- The use of force is easily established by way of any use of physical force.
- Put any person in fear requires that the victim must have feared that the force would be used “then and there”. There is a minimum standard for threats capable of meeting this element. The threat must be sufficient enough to cause personal intimidation.
- Sought to put any person in fear requires that the accused sought to put the victim in fear, even if that attempt was not successful. It is not a requirement that the victim was actually fearful.
The accused did so immediately before or at the time of stealing;
This is in reference to element 2, namely, the force, fear of force, or act that sought to inflict fear of force, was applied “immediately before or at the time” of the theft. Force applied or fear induced after the fact will not meet the requirements of this element.
It is important to note that the act of theft can be a continuous act. The force applied or fear induced can occur at any time prior to the act of stealing being complete.
The accused did so in order to commit a theft.
Lastly, the force must have been used or threatened in order to carry out the theft.
The second element the prosecution must prove to satisfy a charge of armed robbery is that the accused had with them a firearm, imitation firearm, offensive weapon, explosive or imitation explosive with him or her at the time of the theft.
The accused must have possessed one of the described items for the purpose of the robbery. This element will be satisfied if the accused had on their person, at the time of the robbery, an article readily available for use. On the other hand, a person does not have an article with them for the purpose of this element if it is packaged in a way that it cannot be used (for example, if it is contained within a sealed packaged in a bag).
If the accused is unaware that he or she had the article on their person, they cannot be found to have possessed it for the purpose of the robbery. However, an article may be “used” by doing more than drawing attention to its existence.
Armed Robbery: Possible defences
Aside from general defences such as mistaken identity and factual dispute, defences to this charge can include duress imposed on the accused by another, lack of intent and the concept of beyond reasonable doubt. Lack of intent can be a defence to this charge on the premise that the prosecution must prove that the accused had the intention to permanently deprive the victim of the item that was the subject of the theft.
Sentencing for Armed Robbery
The majority of people who plead or are found guilty of this offence will face a term of imprisonment. In the case of Roberts, Hunt CJ quoted the words of Wood J in Maddocks:
The particular circumstances of the offence will determine the gravity of the offence, which will in turn determine whether a term of imprisonment will be imposed, and if so, how long it will be.
The sentencing Judge will commonly consider:
- The role of the individual person;
- The planning involved and method used;
- The value of the items stolen;
- The weapons that were involved and how they were used;
- The impact on the victim;
- The nature of the harm caused to the victim.
The Sentencing Advisory Council has released sentencing statistics for the sentencing of armed robbery in the County and Supreme Court’s between July 2009 to June 2014. Over the five year period, 2,015 cases were heard before the higher courts. 74% of people sentenced received a period of imprisonment, 5% received a wholly suspended period of imprisonment, 1.1% received a partially suspended sentence and about 8.1% received some form of community based order.
The most common length of imprisonment imposed was between 2 and 3 years with 31.3% of persons imprisoned sentenced within that range.
Please note the charge of armed robbery is defined in section 3 of the Sentencing Act 1991 as a serious offence. Suspended sentences were removed in the higher courts for serious and significant offences committed on or after 1 May 2011. Soon after, suspended sentences were removed as a sentencing option in the higher courts for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013.
To view sentencing decisions by Victorian County Courts for the charge of Armed Robbery, visit this page.