CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Can You Rob Yourself?

Martin shaun

That's the question my colleague, Shaun Martin, is asking over at his California Appellate Report blog, in connection with People v. Smith, a case from the California Court of Appeal. Shaun's summary of the case:

Or, more precisely, you can be convicted of robbery even if the owner of the property is in on it. At least if, while you're "robbing" the owner, you "take" the property from employees who don't know that the whole thing's an inside job. Since the employees "possessed" the property (even though it was owned by the owner), you deprived these people of their possessory interest by force, and hence are guilty of robbery.

Shaun isn't so sure about this one. Why isn't assault with a deadly weapon a better measure of the social harm, with maybe a count of insurance fraud thrown in for good measure?

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The quick answer to thiis hypothetical is "yes," where I practice. Here in Michigan, armed robbery is a crime against the clerk who is robbed, not the owner of the money taken. If the clerk isn't in on the job, it's a robbery. If the clerk is on on it, it's embezzlement or the like. At least in Michigan as well, you can be convicted of stealing property you own. For example, if you took your car to a garage for repairs, the garaqge-keeper has a possessory lien on the vehicle for the value of the repairs. If you thereafter take the car back, without paying for the repairs, or at least tendering payment, you've stolen the car, because the garage-keeper had a right to possess it until paid.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Oct 1, 2009 8:28:35 AM

Thanks, Greg. I would say that the possessory interest of the garage-keeper does not simply derive from the owner's interest, but is actually in tension with it, so a theft prosecution in your example makes sense.

Posted by: Kevin Cole | Oct 1, 2009 10:12:52 AM

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