Matilda testifies against Max, saying that Max ran past her at the mall and grabbed her purse. She caught the strap and slowed Max down, but Max yanked the purse free of her grip and exited the mall, only to be stopped by security once outside.
Max's lawyer says there is not enough evidence to convict Max on a robbery charge since the element of force isn't present. The force Max applied was incidental and did not exceed the force necessary to take and carry away the stolen property; thus he can only be charged with larceny.
As the judge, how would you rule?
The answer to this question is not very cut-and-dried and would most likely depend on exactly what Matilda says when she testifies against Max in court. Without hearing Matilda’s testimony, I would tend to believe that Max should be convicted of robbery and not of larceny. Let us examine why this is so.
The major difference between robbery and larceny is that robbery includes the element of force and violence or the threat of violence. Larceny occurs when one person unlawfully takes something from another, intending to permanently deprive the first person of their property. Robbery occurs when larceny is accomplished by forcing the person to give up their property through violence or the threat of violence. The question in this case, then, is whether Max took the purse through violence.
I believe that the case will turn on Matilda’s testimony. Only Matilda can know for sure what she was feeling when Max took the purse. If Max had succeeded in taking the purse when he first grabbed it, it would clearly be larceny because Matilda did not part with it because she was afraid of Max. But Matilda held on to the purse and that spun Max around to where he was facing her. In fact, he ended up lunging towards her and moving his second hand towards her as well. What did she think at this point? Did she think Max would hurt her if she held on to the purse? Or was she just surprised and not scared? If she thought Max was going to hurt her, it is robbery. If she was not afraid (if he only got the purse because the strap broke) it is only larceny.
If I had to make a ruling without hearing Matilda’s testimony (and without knowing anything more about Max and Matilda) I would say this is robbery. When Max turned and faced Matilda, he came to seem more like a threat to her. When he lunged toward her and moved his second hand toward her, she could well have been afraid that he was going to hurt her. (This would be particularly true if he was a large man, if she were very small, very old, or was in some other way more likely to feel vulnerable.) Because he only took the purse after coming face-to-face with her and after making moves in her direction, I would rule that she gave up her purse out of fear. However, I would much prefer to hear her testimony before I made this ruling.