Friday, December 9, 2016
C.A.: No Need to Read Robbery Statute in Conformity With Common Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal yesterday rejected a defendant’s contention that he was improperly convicted of robbery because the force he used was applied after he snatched money from a cab driver, not during commission of the theft.
The defendant, Elrie Charles Hooks, got into a taxi, and asked the driver if he had change for a $100 bill. The driver held up $50 in currency to show that he did, Hooks snatched it.
When the driver came around to the passenger door to block Hooks from alighting from the vehicle, Hooks pushed the door open, and a few moments later, knocked a cellphone out of the victim’s hand.
Robbery, his appointed counsel, Ava R. Stralla, noted, requires more force than is necessary to accomplish the theft. She argued that not only did the force exerted by Hooks not exceed what was necessary to accomplish his objective, but it took place after the money had been taken.
Under common law, she pointed out, a theft could not “ripen” into a robbery after property following the taking. California’s robbery statute is based on common law, and decisions finding post-taking force to satisfy the requirement of the statute are improper judicial elaborations upon it.
Justice Richard Huffman wrote for Div. One, in rejecting the contentions.
“We recognize that California’s robbery statute ‘closely tracked the definition of robbery,’ which described robbery as the ‘felonious taking’ of another’s property by force, intimidation, violence, or fear,” he wrote.
However, he cited a 1966 California Supreme Court opinion as saying “that a robbery is not completed at the moment the robber obtains possession of the stolen property and that the crime of robbery includes the element of asportation, the robber’s escape with the loot being considered as important in the commission of the crime as gaining possession of the property.”
He went on to say:
“Hooks relies upon outdated authority from the Michigan Supreme Court, which treats the initial act of stealing the property as a theft and the subsequent violence on the victim as an assault….This interpretation of the common law is inconsistent with our Supreme Court’s decisions, and we decline to apply it here.”
Force Was Sufficient
Huffman also rejected the contention that an insufficient quantum of force had been applied for the theft to constitute a robbery. He said:
“…Hooks’s actions following the snatching of the money cannot be detached from the commission of the robbery. The force Hooks used to push open the taxi door while the victim stood behind it, was enough to overcome his resistance. The victim testified that while he was holding the door, Hooks pushed it hard. The victim struggled to hold the door, but when Hooks pushed it he ‘decided not to fight it anymore.’ Additionally, the force Hooks used to push the victim’s shoulder while he called 911 was also enough to overcome his resistance. Hooks pushed the victim hard enough for him to drop his phone. In sum, Hooks applied force to overcome the victim’s resistance so that Hooks could escape with the money. Such force is sufficient to sustain his conviction.”
Huffman did agree with Hooks that a one-year enhancement should be stricken, and instructed that San Diego Superior Court Judge Melinda J. Lasater, who presided over the trial, correct the abstract of judgment.
The unpublished opinion came in People v. Hooks, D069668.
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