Robbery, in law, a felonious taking of money or goods, of any value, from the person of another or in his presence, against his will, by violence or putting him in fear. The characteristic feature of this offence, and that which makes the distinctive difference between it and simple larceny from the person (or between a robber and a cutpurse or common thief), is the violence and fear attending its perpetration; and therefore it makes no material difference whether the thing taken be of great or small value, though it must be of some real value, for otherwise it is no larceny and consequently no robbery; and there must also be an actual taking of something, for the violence and putting in fear alone would amount only to an assault. It is not necessary that the money or property should be taken directly from the person or manual possession of the owner in order to constitute this offence. If it be taken in the actual presence of the owner, and violence be offered to his person, or he be put in fear for the purpose of accomplishing such a taking, this amounts to the same thing; as if, for instance, a robber should assault a man and command him to deliver up his purse, but instead of doing so the owner should throw it away from him, and the robber should then pick it up and carry it off in his presence, this would be as much a robbery as if he had taken it from the owner's person.
The robber must have obtained actual possession of the property, but it is not material that such possession should continue; and though for any reason the robber should return the money stolen the next moment after receiving it, either absolutely or conditionally, yet this will not alter the crime, or render its consummation less complete. A sudden snatching of a thing from the hand or person of another is not such a taking by force and through fear as will constitute robbery, unless it occasions either an injury to the party from whom it is snatched, or a struggle for the possession of the property taken; for here there is no putting in fear; and though a certain degree of force may be used, the theft is accomplished rather without than against the consent of the owner, and more by the dexterity of the thief and the sudden surprise of the party than by open force and terror. But where an ear ring was so suddenly pulled from a lady's ear that she had neither time nor opportunity for resistance, it being done with such violence that her ear was entirely torn through, the perpetrator was held guilty of robbery. The violence and putting in fear, moreover, must precede the taking.
If a man quietly steal anything from the person, though he afterward retain possession of it by violence or by intimidating the owner, this is not robbery; for the fear is subsequent to the larceny, and no violence subsequently used, even with respect to the same thing, will operate so as to convert that into robbery which was before only larceny. But if a man be knocked down without any previous warning, and then stripped of his property while senseless, though he could not properly be said to have been previously put in fear, yet it would be a robbery. If the violence be fraudulently used under color of some legal proceeding; or if money be forcibly extorted under pretence of a purchase or sale; or if a man beg in a menacing manner, as with a drawn sword in his hand, and receive alms from the party through the apprehensions regarding his personal safety which the appearance and actions of the beggar naturally excite in his mind; in all these cases it will still be robbery. Thus, where the prisoner forcibly took a bushel and a half of wheat worth 8s. from a woman, and compelled her to accept 13d. for it, threatening to kill her if she refused, this was held to be robbery by all the judges in England. It is not necessary that the delivery of the money or goods should be contemporary with the violence or the immediate effect of it; as, if a robber, finding but a small sum of money about a man's person, compel him to swear under a threat of death in case of non-compliance to bring him a larger sum, which the man does, this is robbery, because the terror caused by such a menace is upon him at the time of his making the payment, and was the cause of his doing so. - The payment of money or delivery of goods by the owner, under the fear of having his property destroyed, is robbery in the receiver.
And it is an important rule that the violence is sufficient to make the crime robbery, although it consist entirely of a threat to disgrace a person. * The fear arising from a menace of accusing one of a dreadful crime which would endanger his personal safety, or lead to the loss of his character or situation, is equivalent to the fear of personal and immediate violence; and to extort money by such means is robbery. But the fear thus excited must not only be such as will suffice to influence or even to constrain the ordinary action of the will; it must entirely and immediately control and overpower it, and render the person incapable through terror or confusion of resisting the demand. For this reason, in a case where the prosecutor, who was threatened with having such a charge made against him unless he complied with the prisoner's demand, did not part with his money immediately upon the threat being made to him, but on the contrary did so after the person making the threat had left him, and afforded him sufficient time in which to consider the matter, and apply for assistance if he desired so to do, and after he had consulted with a friend who was actually present when he paid the money, here it is considered that the prosecutor was not impressed with such terror as to render him incapable of resisting the demand; that there was not the continuing fear which could operate in constantem virum from the time when the money was demanded until it was paid; and consequently there was neither the actual nor constructive violence which was necessary to constitute the crime of robbery.
Further, it is not necessary that the fear should be of violence to the person robbed. If the threat is made against a man's wife or child, or other person to whom he is bound by ties of blood and affection, and he gives money to the robber for the sake of saving such person from immediate danger or violence, this would be as much a robbery as if the violence were offered to himself. Neither is it necessary that the robbery should be the sole and original motive of the person making use of the violence, if the violence so used led to this result; as, where a man feloniously assaulted a woman, who, without any demand on his part to that effect, offered him money, which he took, yet continued to treat her with violence, for the accomplishment of his original purpose, until interrupted by the approach of others, this was held to be a robbery; for the woman, terrified by the prisoner's behavior, offered the money to save herself from further violence, which otherwise she would not have given voluntarily. - It was a principle of the common law that no restitution of stolen goods could be awarded upon an indictment, inasmuch as it was at the suit of the king only, and the owner could only obtain restitution by an appeal of robbery, which was the suit of the party ; but this has long fallen into disuse, and subsequent statutes have remedied the defect.
Formerly, when a robbery or other felony had been committed in England, a hue and cry should be raised, which was the old common law process of pursuing with horn and with voice all felons. In this hue and cry all persons, both officers and private individuals, were called upon to join; and no hue and cry was deemed sufficient unless made with both horsemen and footmen. In order that such hue and cry should be more effectually made, the hundred was bound to answer for all robberies therein committed unless they captured the felon; and this responsibility is the foundation of the ancient action against the hundred for any loss by robbery. If the robber was taken, the hundred stood excused; but otherwise the party robbed was entitled to prosecute it by a special action on the case for damages equivalent to his loss. In order further to encourage the apprehending of robbers, certain rewards were offered to such as would bring them to justice, by various acts of parliament, one of which enacted "that such as apprehend a highwayman and prosecute him to conviction shall receive a reward of £40 from the public, to be paid to them by the sheriff, together with the horse, furniture, arms, money, and other goods taken upon the person of such robber, saving only the rights of any persons from whom the same may have been stolen." - Robbery has always been considered an aggravated crime, especially when committed with dangerous or deadly weapons, and was formerly punished with great rigor and severity.
Until comparatively recent times it was indeed punished with death, here as well as in England, even though the amount stolen would, if unaccompanied by violence, have constituted only petit larceny. This was the rule of the common law; but the progress of civilization, restricting capital punishment to a few crimes, has modified the penalty for robbery, as a general thing, to imprisonment for life, or for a term of years, according to the particular circumstances and degree of the crime.