Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Breaking Down Bieber's Alleged Attempted Robbery

Photo: Miami Beach Police Department
Justin Bieber dipped his toes into more hot water on Monday night. The LAPD is investigating him for attempted robbery after his reported dust-up with some folks at a mini-golf complex, of all places. TMZ (yes, I’m citing TMZ for this one) recounts the alleged victim’s version  of events:

“The woman says Justin and his crew got into an altercation with some guys at the batting cage when J.B. noticed she was going for her cellphone to take pictures.  She says Justin demanded to see her phone so he could erase any photos.  She says she refused to fork over the phone so he then went into her purse and grabbed it.

“The woman says she began wrestling with Bieber, trying to get her phone back.  She says he ripped it out of her hands but couldn't accomplish his mission because the phone was locked. . . .

“She says Justin gave her the phone back and demanded that she unlock it to see if she took photos.  She obliged and showed Justin she had taken none.  She says she told Justin she and her 13-year-old daughter just wanted to say hi, and Justin screamed, ‘You're humiliating yourself in front of your daughter.  Why don't you just get out of here.’ Her daughter started crying.”

A Serious Offense

Robbery in California occurs when someone uses force or fear to take property from another. The property must be in the victim’s immediate presence, and the taking must be against the victim’s will. (Cal. Penal Code § 211.) Unless it occurs under certain conditions, none of which apply here, the crime is second degree robbery. (First degree robbery occurs when, for example, the victim has just used an ATM.) (Cal. Penal Code § 212.5.)
Second degree robbery is a felony carrying the potential of two, three, or five years in prison. Attempted robbery isn’t punished as severely, but it can also trigger prison time. (Cal. Penal Code § 213.)

Robbery? Really?

If the complaining witness is to be believed, Bieber might be guilty of either attempted or actual robbery. He supposedly used force to take the phone directly from the victim, and she didn’t want to give it up. It doesn’t matter that he had the property only for a moment, as even a momentary taking involving slight movement will suffice for a robbery conviction. (People v. Hill, 17 Cal. 4th 800 (1998).) On the other hand, to commit the offense, the defendant must intend to deprive the owner of the object permanently or for an unreasonable period of time, or to handle it in a way that creates a risk of permanent loss. (People v. Mumm, 98 Cal.App.4th 812 (2002).)
Bieber might have a defense to robbery if he can establish that he tried to and did take the phone only to delete any photos, and that he always intended to give it right back. Regardless, it seems unlikely that he’d land a felony conviction for such a petty incident. Of course, that isn’t to comment on his other cases—he’s scheduled for trial in Florida for driving under the influence and in Toronto for misdemeanor assault. A couple convictions would run the risk of (kind of) legitimizing those folks behind the petition calling for his deportation.