What are the types of sentences for robbery?
When prosecuting a charge of robbery the Crown often seeks a sentence that includes a jail sentence. That’s because the use of force – or at least the implied threat of violence – is part of the crime.
Determining what constitutes a threat of violence depends on the circumstances. The court will look at what words and gestures were used by the accused, or what actions were taken that would lead the victim to reasonably believe physical injury could be imminent. If there is a use of force, the crime becomes an indictable offence, with time in custody a real possibility.
If a gun was involved, incarceration is almost a certainty. But if the weapon were a knife or some other object, there is a possibility to lower the charge to something like theft. Every outcome depends on the facts. I have had success in securing reduced sentences for clients in robbery cases, especially those with clean criminal records and those who agree to counselling.
Weapon use an aggravating factor
One of my clients went into a convenience store and demanded money, indicating that he had a gun. His face wasn't covered and the crime was caught on security camera. A few weeks later he returned to rob the same location but this time he wore a facemask.
The clerk could tell it was the same person. He again claimed to have a concealed weapon and the clerk thought he heard a gun cock. My client walked away with a few hundred dollars each time.
Because there was the threat of a firearm and two different criminal acts, he was looking at receiving an eight-year prison sentence. Through negotiation with the Crown, I was able to convince the court that he should only receive a four-year sentence, less the pre-sentence custody.
I argued that he was dealing with addiction issues, with the stolen money used to feed his drug habit. My client tried to rehabilitate himself before the crimes, and as part of his sentencing, he agreed to enroll in counselling, an effort the court recognized by this shorter sentence.
Robberies are often drug-related
One of my clients joined a group of friends on a visit to someone’s house when they were not invited. The Crown’s position was that the group wanted to intimidate a man there, as he was a competitor in selling marijuana in the area.
A gun was seen during this encounter, which led to my client and his co-accused being convicted of robbery. The home was equipped with video surveillance, allowing one of the witnesses to identify my client. He received a four-year sentence, minus pre-sentence custody.
In the Northwest Territories, a man robbed a bank with a knife to get money, according to a news report, which states the robbery was part of a “four-day booze and crack cocaine binge.”
The man showed the teller a knife and demanded money, according to the report, with the Crown prosecutor noting, “It was very much a crime to feed his drug and alcohol addiction.” He was given a 2.5-year sentence.
Life sentences can be handed out
The maximum punishment for robbery is life imprisonment. Section 344 of the Criminal Code clearly spells out the penalty stating: “Every person who commits robbery is guilty of an indictable offence and liable
(a) if a restricted firearm or prohibited firearm is used in the commission of the offence or if any firearm is used in the commission of the offence and the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of
(i) in the case of a first offence, five years, and
(ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, seven years;
(a.1) in any other case where a firearm is used in the commission of the offence, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of four years; and
(b) in any other case, to imprisonment for life
Robbery conviction nets 25 years
A man who terrorized and held employees hostage in a series of armed heists was handed a 25-year prison sentence in Nova Scotia, according to a news report.
During a holdup at Costco, the man and accomplices duct-taped the eyes of about 40 employees over a 2.5-hour period as they arrived for work, the story states, in what the Crown described as “a scene from a Hollywood movie.”
The judge noted the culprit’s only remorse was with "being busted," the story adds, though he said the man showed some concern for the victims. "I get the impression that he views himself as a modern-day Robin Hood without the 'giving to the poor' component," the judge wrote in his judgment.
Sentences must be proportional
In 2012 the Ontario Court of Appeal was asked to review the combined 21-year prison sentence given to a man convicted of 26 bank robberies in a 14-year span. Six of the crimes occurred in a three-week period while released from the penitentiary on a temporary absence pass and failed to return.
The appeal court lowered his combined sentence by one year, with the ruling offering this insight into what the courts consider when deciding on a sentence:
“A foundational principle of the Canadian sentencing regime is the principle of proportionality: ‘[a] sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender,” it states, quoting from s.718.1 of the Code. “This principle is based upon the fundamental notion that the punishment must fit the crime and that the degree of punishment must reflect the gravity of the offence and the moral blameworthiness of the offender. Otherwise, society will have no confidence in the law or the fairness and rationality of the legal system.”
The judgment continued by noting, “a combined sentence must not be unduly long or harsh in the sense that its impact simply exceeds the gravity of the offences in question or the overall culpability of the offender. The overall length of the custodial period imposed must still relate to and reflect the variety of sentencing goals, including denunciation, deterrence (specific and general), rehabilitation, the need to separate offenders from society where necessary, and the general imperative of promoting respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.”
Prison sentence offers rehab and education
The courts weigh many factors when determining a sentence. In Windsor, Ont, a man was given a seven-year sentence for 13 offences including armed robbery, according to a news report. In passing the sentence, it states the judge mused if the punishment was suitable.
“My concern is he doesn’t have anything planned to go in a different way,” the judge said, noting the man had not previously taken advantage of any opportunities to reform himself.
“He could go to jail, come out and do the same thing again,” said the judge, according to the story. “There comes a time when, for the safety of the public, something has to be done. We don’t want any more victims sitting in this courtroom.”
The man’s lawyer said a first penitentiary sentence should be no longer than necessary, the story states, though his client’s “expected time at Kingston Penitentiary would offer him the first opportunity at sustained rehab and education opportunities.”
Age can be a factor in sentencing
The Provincial Court of Manitoba gave an 18-year-old man a suspended sentence after he and two others robbed three other teens of their cellphones, a skateboard and a wallet. The Crown had sought a one-year jail term, arguing it was a “serious personal injury offence and as such the accused is not entitled to consideration for a conditional sentence.”
Court documents show that before the crime the man had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder and was a heavy user of alcohol and drugs. After his arrest “significant changes have occurred. He has completed a 28-day residential treatment program at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba” and was able to secure a full-time job, allowing him to start to repay $9,000 in debts to family and friends.
The court noted that the age of offenders must be considered as a factor.
“It has long been the case that the principle of restraint is operative for youthful offenders,” the judgment reads. “The rationale must surely be the common-sense realization that some – if not most – young adults lack maturity and life experience … our community understands that young adults sometimes behave foolishly, and some commit criminal acts. While they must not escape unpunished, their immaturity and lack of experience diminishes their level of responsibility and moral blameworthiness for crimes they commit as compared to mature adults. It is only just that this be reflected in the sentence imposed … [jail] would be counter-productive to rehabilitation, a very important objective here.”
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