What is Strong-Arm Robbery in South Carolina?
You don't need to be an attorney to know what an armed robbery is. But when folks hear the word "strong-arm" robbery many times I see confusion. This confusion is not unique to victims or defendants, but can be found in law enforcement and among some attorneys (and even prosecutors) as well.
Armed robbery is prohibited by section 16-11-330 and imposes a penalty of 10 to 30 years, but the statute really doesn't give us a definition of what robbery is. Likewise there are no statutes that define what strong-arm robbery is either. Section 16-11-325 provides that "the common law offense of robbery is a felony. Upon conviction, a person must be imprisoned not more than 15 years." Many folks are charged with and convicted of strong-arm robbery each year in South Carolina, and the statute above is the only authority found in the code.
Okay, so let's get to the definition. What is strong arm robbery? Strong arm robbery is the taking by force or intimidation, the property of another. See Dukes v. State, 248 S.C.227, 231 (1966). It is sometimes said to be larceny by force or intimidation and may also take different names such as "Common Law Robbery", or "Highway Robbery."
Examples always make it easier. Let's say someone leaves their book on a table and a thief comes along and takes it. That person could be charged with larceny. However if the person had the book in their possession and the thief came up and wrestled it away from the victim, the appropriate charge would then be strong-arm robbery. To elevate it one step further, if the thief pulled a gun on the victim and forced them to hand over the book, that would be an example of armed robbery.
It's important that the item be in the immediate presence of or the possession of the victim. In my years as a prosecutor, I prosecuted several cases where a store clerk would walk away from the cash register and the defendant would reach over and steal money from the register. This was not viewed as a strong-arm robbery because the clerk had left the counter area.
Penalties and Prosecution
Strong arm robbery is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It is prosecuted in the Courts of General Sessions by the Solicitors office. Strong-arm robbery is NOT considered a violent offense. See 16-1-60.