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Is Bank Robbery a Felony?
The vast majority of bank robbery charges are classified as felonies for two distinct reasons: they involve the theft of more than $1,000, and/or the offender conducted the crime with the use of intimidation or force. If either of these conditions are met, at least in the prosecution’s eyes, the defendant will likely face federal felony charges. If the amount of money stolen from a federally insured bank is less than $1,000 and if there was no intimidation or force during the robbery, the defendant may end up facing misdemeanor charges instead.
Is Bank Robbery a Federal Crime?
Bank robbery is a very serious crime that, while often glorified in popular culture, can result in severe punishment if you are caught and convicted. Bank robbery is almost always considered to be a federal crime, as most banks or financial institutions are federally insured. This means that when you steal money that belongs to a federally insured bank or financial institution, you are essentially stealing from the federal government.
Bank robbery is defined quite broadly to include any theft from a “bank” and further, that what qualifies as a bank begins with the Federal Reserve and then encompasses any bank, credit union, trust company or financial institution organized or operating in the United States. This fairly liberal definition also allows foreign banks operating on American soil to fall under the umbrella of the Code.
What Is the Typical Bank Robbery Sentence?
The federal government takes bank robbery seriously and is considered a felony in almost all instances, with few exceptions.
If threats, intimidation or force were used during a felony bank-robbing offense, you could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. Otherwise, you could face up to 10 years behind bars.
If you are found guilty of misdemeanor bank robbery, you could be punished with up to one year imprisonment in addition to a fine.
Keep in mind that co-conspirators can face similar charges to those who actually participate in the bank robbery. If you are accused of aiding and abetting the bank robbers before the robbery you could be charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery. If you are accused of aiding the robbers, for example, by driving the bank robbers over state lines, you could be charged with accessory after the fact.
Statute of Limitations on Bank Robbery
At the federal level, the statute of limitations, which is the period of time beginning from the date of the robbery until the date federal charges cannot be legally laid, for the crime of bank robbery is five years. That being said, exceptional cases in which state-level bank robbery charges are more relevant may see jurisdictional statutes extend beyond this time frame.
Defending Bank Robbery Charges
There are several difficulties in defending charges of bank robbery, simply because many financial institutions now have sophisticated surveillance systems for recording bank activity both on-site and off-site.
Eyewitness accounts can also be called into question, as is common in most criminal defense cases, and the audio-video recordings can be beneficial to the case if the identity of the offender cannot be reliably proven after reviewing all available footage.
Police may attempt to enter the results of eyewitness records centered on photographic line-ups of suspects, meaning “suggestive line-ups” by some defense attorneys, which can be contested on the basis of a lack of impartiality via subject selection.
If you are charged with conspiracy to commit bank robbery and accessory after the fact, you may have more defense options available than those who have been charged with bank robbery. You could argue that you had no idea of the bank robbery scheme. Another defense such as renunciation or abandonment may be viable but these defenses require the defendant to definitively prove that they had walked away from the bank robbery prior to it taking place, communicated their absolute renunciation of the crime’s commission beforehand, and did not re-initiate contact with any co-conspirators after doing so.
Abandonment or renunciation may be considered a much riskier defense and might be less preferable than the defense strategies of simple innocence or unwitting compliance.
What Does a Bank Robbery Lawyer Do?
A bank robbery lawyer will begin by thoroughly discussing the case with you and will evaluate the strength and weaknesses of the government’s case, develop a legal theory in your defense call witnesses and introduce evidence on your behalf.
If you decide not to take your case to trial, your attorney can negotiate a plea bargain to reduce the length of the sentence and the amount of the fine, if a fine is imposed.
An experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with bank robbery cases may be able to successfully defend you by casting ample doubt on the prosecution’s case, such as lack of audio-video evidence, faulty eyewitness testimony or exaggeration of the facts by a teller caught on tape.
Your attorney knows how to use any errors the government makes in building its case against you to your advantage, such as challenging the lawfulness of your arrest and the seizure of evidence to be used against you.
At trial, your attorney can aggressively defend you by:
- Cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses
- Raising objections to the introduction of evidence and testimony
- Filing motions challenging the prosecution or a judge’s ruling
All of the above may have significant positive results for you on appeal if you are convicted.
If accomplices or co-conspirators are involved, participants willing to divulge information material to the case or to testify against their alleged accomplices may also find themselves in a position to negotiate for a reduced sentence.
To ensure you have the best defense possible in navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system, you need an assertive attorney who is thoroughly knowledgeable in federal bank robbery law and experienced in defending these cases at trial.