What is “Robbery” Under New York State Law?

Last updated on June 2, 2022

Criminal terms are often used one way in common everyday language, but under the law, they can mean something different (or at least have a very specific, distinct meaning). As an experienced robbery lawyer, it is my job to understand the legal nuances of criminal charges and what each means for you if you have been accused of a crime in New York.

What is the Difference Between Theft and Robbery in New York?

The terms “theft” and “robbery” are often used interchangeably in conversation however, they have very different legal definitions under New York law. Whereas theft means that property has been taken from a rightful owner, robbery is generally defined as the taking of property by the use of physical force or the threat of force.

Three Degrees of Robbery

Robbery is considered a felony under New York law and is broken down into three degrees, each a different level of the crime with its own punishments and consequences.

  1. Robbery in the Third Degree is a class D non-violent felony and is considered the least serious form of the crime.
  2. Robbery in the Second Degree is a class C violent felony and the second most serious robbery charge.
  3. Robbery in the First Degree is a class B violent felony and is considered the most serious robbery charge.

While any degree of robbery is serious and carries significant prison time, Robbery in the First Degree carries the most significant penalties and can impact an individual for the rest of their lives, even if it is the first offense.

The Seriousness of a Robbery in the First Degree Charge

If you are accused of stealing from someone while using or displaying a deadly weapon or other dangerous instruments, or having caused serious physical injury while robbing someone, you will be charged with Robbery in the First Degree. As the most serious and violent of all robbery charges, it carries the most severe penalties.

For a first-time offender with no prior felony convictions, a conviction of Robbery in the First Degree will carry a minimum sentence of 5 years in state prison. Depending on the nature of a record of prior felony convictions, the minimum sentence can increase to either 8 or 10 years. Regardless of any criminal history, the maximum sentence is 25 years in state prison. In addition, the Court can order a person convicted of robbery to pay a fine and/or restitution.

Have You Been Mistakenly Identified?

Criminal prosecutors take robbery charges very seriously. Unfortunately, arrests can be riddled with mistakes. There are times when an individual is falsely accused, charged, and even convicted of robbery. This can sometimes happen even though they were never found in possession of stolen property or a weapon and do not even match the description of the robber.

Particularly when a robbery involves multiple people, the police sometimes arrest and charge someone who just happens to be in the immediate vicinity but in fact was just an innocent bystander. Further complicating matters the fact that eyewitness identifications can be highly flawed, especially in cases of robbery. A witness may mistakenly identify someone as the perpetrator of a robbery even when that person didn’t commit the crime. Mistaken identifications can lead to wrongful accusations and convictions.


One defense to a first-degree charge of robbery would be that you did not possess a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. The statute provides very clear definitions of deadly weapons and dangerous tools. A prosecutor may find it difficult to convince the court that a weapon is dangerous or deathly if the victim was threatened by a non-serrated dull-edged knife. But, even if the victim is convinced that you have a deadly tool, they could still be prosecuted.


Robbery of the first degree, a class B felon, is subject to a maximum 25-year sentence. The judge will consider your prior criminal records and any aggravating, or mitigating aspects of your robbery. A judge may still sentence you to 5 years imprisonment even if you have not been convicted of any offenses in your past. Because assault in the first degree is also a violent felony, A court must sentence you to at minimum 8 years if your classification is non-violent. You will not be allowed to be convicted if your classification is violent.

Related Collateral And Offenses Issues

A misunderstanding that becomes physical can lead to a misdemeanor theft offense like Petit Larceny becoming a felony Robbery. However, skilled criminal lawyers representing clients in such arrests routinely find clients facing additional charges, including assault, Grand Larceny, and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.

No matter what degree of robbery you have been charged with, it is an extremely serious charge and can carry prison time. If you have been charged with robbery in New York, you need a skilled robbery lawyer to ensure that you get an experienced and talented legal defense. Contact the law firm of Jason Bassett Criminal Attorney for a free consultation to understand your legal rights.

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