Timothy M was indicted on first degree robbery charges stemming from an incident that occurred on January 5, 1992. In that incident, Mr. M, along with a group of approximately 15 others, was walking along Jefferson Avenue in Rochester, New York. The group happened upon Charles G, an individual known in the neighborhood as a frequent shoplifter. At the time, Mr. G was holding a large plastic garbage bag, which apparently contained stolen clothing. Mr. M told the other members of his group that he was going to steal the bag from Mr. G. One of the boys in the group had a gun that he fired as Mr. M attempted to steal the bag from Mr. G. Additional shots were fired and Mr. G died of a gunshot wound to the neck.
Mr. M was charged with two counts of second degree murder and two counts of first degree robbery. At trial, Mr. M’s attorney asked the judge to charge the jury regarding attempted robbery in the first degree as a lesser included offense. No witnesses testified that Mr. M was in possession of the gun and he was subsequently convicted of attempted robbery and acquitted of the other counts.
Mr. M’s defense attorney filed an appeal of his conviction with the Supreme Court Appellate Division, Fourth Department. In his appeal, Mr. M argued that it was legally impossible to commit first degree attempted robbery based on the crime’s statutory definition. According to New York Penal Law, the elements of attempted robbery involve the intent to steal another’s property while causing an unintended result of serious bodily injury. This differs from larceny or other property crimes, such as burglary, which involve the theft of another’s property without the use of force.
The prosecution argued that causing someone serious physical injury should be viewed as an aggravating circumstance and that the forcible attempt to steal satisfied the elements of the crime.
The Appellate Division was charged with deciding the issue of whether attempted robbery in the first degree is in fact a nonexistent crime. The Court noted that in previous decision, it recognized that there can be no attempt to commit a crime if the crime involves an element of specific intent and the element of an unintended result. Furthermore, the Court noted that concerning a charge of robbery in the first degree, the prosecution is not required to prove that the defendant intended to cause another person serious bodily harm.
The Appellate Court concluded that the elements of attempted robbery as defined by New York Penal Law are contradictory. Specifically, the Court was referring to the element of an unintended result. The Court reasoned that if a defendant did not have a specific intent to cause an unintended injury, then it would be legally impossible to commit attempted robbery in the first degree. As such, the Appellate Court ruled that based on this logic, there was insufficient evident to prove Mr. M’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the Court opted to modify the judgment against Mr. M to include the lesser charge of attempted robbery in the third degree, which does not include the element of unintended injury. The Court also recommended that the case be remitted to Monroe County Court with regard to the modification of Mr. M’s sentence.
The outcome of this case demonstrates the necessity of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. Had Mr. M’s attorney not raised this particular defense, he may have been subject to a much longer prison term than warranted.
The law firm of Stephen Bilkis and Associates specializes in helping criminal defendants in the New York area to aggressively fight charges for robbery or other property crimes involving theft. If you’re in need of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, call us today at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW to discuss the facts of your case. We also have multiple offices located throughout the New York area, which you may visit at your convenience. Don’t hesitate to get the legal representation you need to fight a New York robbery charge.