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People v. Patton





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. RICHARD E. EAGLETON, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Ray Patton, was charged with the offenses of robbery and theft. After a jury trial in the circuit court of Peoria County he was found guilty of both offenses, but judgment of conviction and sentence of imprisonment of from 1 to 6 years was imposed only on the robbery offense.

On this appeal the defendant argues the evidence presented is sufficient only to support the conviction of theft and insufficient to support the conviction of robbery.

On June 27, 1976, Rita Alexander and her husband and children were on their way to church about 5:25 p.m. As they were walking toward the church, Mrs. Alexander noticed a man coming the opposite direction on the sidewalk toward her. Just as this man came along side her, he grabbed her purse and ran. Mrs. Alexander had been carrying her purse in her finger tips down at her left side. The man grabbed the purse very quickly and it threw her arm back "a little bit." She did not remember how much her arm was moved. Although the offender was chased he was not caught at the time.

The defendant was identified as the offender although at the trial, the defendant denied the charge and claimed the offender was another person who looked like him and who was with him in the area of the church. On this appeal no questions are raised concerning the sufficiency of the evidence to identify the defendant as the offender.

At the close of the People's case, at the close of all the evidence, and at the conference on jury instructions, defendant insisted that the evidence of force was insufficient to support the charge and conviction of robbery. The trial court rejected the defendant's theory during the course of the proceedings and again denied defendant's motion for a new trial renewing such assertions. According to section 18-1(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 18-1(a)):

"(a) A person commits robbery when he takes property from the person or presence of another by the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force."

The sole question is whether the victim's property was taken with the use of force within the meaning of the statute. More particularly the question is whether the purse snatching incident constitutes such force, it being conceded there is no other evidence of force or intimidation. At this juncture it would be well to note that our statute recognizes theft from the person as a more serious offense than theft and a less serious offense than robbery. A theft not from the person of property valued at less than $150 is a Class A misdemeanor (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 16-1(e)(1)). Theft from the person even where the property is of a value of less than $150 is punishable as a Class 3 felony (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 16-1(e)(3)). Robbery is of course a Class 2 felony. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 18-1(b).) The essential difference between robbery and theft is the absence of use of force or intimidation in the latter. By increasing the penalty for theft of property from the person the statute recognizes that thefts from the person are more serious than ordinary thefts even though the absence of force or intimidation is still a distinguishing characteristic of the offense.

The character of the conduct involved in this case is commonly referred to as a "snatching" offense. Both parties concede that the issue of whether purse snatching is robbery has not been directly passed upon by the courts> of review in this State. However, the subject has been mentioned as dicta in several Illinois decisions which suggest Illinois courts> favor the majority view and would hold that the force incident to a snatch without more does not include the requisite force required by the statute. 67 Am.Jur.2d Robbery § 28 (1973); Annot., 42 A.L.R.3d 1381, 1383 (1972).

In People v. Ryan, 239 Ill. 410, 88 N.E. 170, the charge was assault with intent to commit robbery, now attempt robbery. The court held the evidence insufficient to support the conviction where the defendant withdrew the victim's stick pin from his tie, but then dropped the pin after the victim grabbed the defendant's hand causing the defendant to flee without the pin. The court held that force incident to the removal of the stick pin was not sufficient to constitute robbery and hence the evidence did not support the conviction of assault to commit robbery.

The court in Ryan observed:

"If the taking is by actual violence causing a substantial injury to the person, such as grabbing a hand-bag from a lady's arm with such force that the arm is bruised and lame for several days, it will be robbery." 239 Ill. 410, 412-13, 88 N.E. 170, 171.)

The court in Ryan then goes on to say:

"* * * [I]f there is no resistance by the owner or injury to his person, and the taking is without force or violence, it does not amount to ...

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