John G was charged with one count of robbery in the first degree stemming from an incident that occurred on May 22, 2008. In that incident, Mr. G entered the Commerce Bank branch on Hugenot Avenue in Richmond County, New York and handed a nearby teller a note. The note stated he had a gun and she was to turn over the contents of her till without speaking or drawing attention to herself. The teller filled a bag that Mr. G had provided with approximately $1,810. Mr. G then left the bank and was arrested for the crime several months later. The teller never actually saw a weapon in Mr. G’s possession and it was later established that the only evidence that he did have a gun was the note he had written.
The prosecutor presented this evidence to the grand jury, which resulted in an indictment for first degree robbery being entered against Mr. Gt. His attorney then filed an omnibus motion with the Supreme Court of Richmond County, requesting that the first degree robbery count be removed from the indictment in favor of a third degree robbery charge. The Supreme Court granted Mr. G’s motion and the charge was reduced accordingly.
The prosecution appealed the Supreme Court’s decision. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court was then charged with determining whether the evidence presented to the grand jury was sufficient to warrant a charge of robbery in the first degree. The Appellate Division held that the prosecution had presented insufficient circumstantial evidence regarding the use or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, i.e. the gun that Mr. G claimed he had. The written note, the Court argued, was not enough to establish whether or not Mr. G did indeed have a weapon in his possession at the time the robbery occurred. Accordingly, the Appellate Division upheld the Supreme Court’s original decision to change the indictment.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Fisher argued that the prosecution’s evidence was in fact sufficient to warrant the first degree robbery charge. Furthermore, Judge Fisher held that the language used in the defendant’s note could lead someone to reasonably believe that he did have a weapon that was capable of being fired. Specifically, statements made by a defendant during the commission of a crime could be considered legally sufficient as evidence. Judge Fisher concluded that Mr. G’s note constituted a threat to use a weapon against the bank teller and evidence that he did indeed have a weapon on his person. Under New York law, robbery involves the taking of someone else’s property through the use of force or threats. This differs from other crimes involving theft of property, such as grand larceny.
Mr. G’s defense attorney was successful in defending his rights against the State’s appeal, despite the fact that one member of the Appellate panel disagreed. Had he not sought expert legal representation to defend him against the first degree robbery charges, he may have faced a longer prison term than was warranted based on the facts of the case.
In the New York area, the law firm of Stephen and Bilkis is dedicated to providing criminal defendants with the help they need to preserve their rights. If you’re facing trial for robbery or another property crime such as burglary, you need the aid of an experienced New York Criminal Defense Lawyer to help navigate the legal process. Call us now at 1-800-NY-NY-LAW or visit one of our local offices to speak with a member of our legal defense team.