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People v. Bowel





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Third District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County, the Hon. Donald D. Courson, Judge, presiding.


After a jury trial in the circuit court of Peoria County, the defendant, Lawrence Bowel, was found guilty of theft from the person and robbery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, pars. 16-1(a), 18-1). The trial court entered judgment on the robbery verdict only and sentenced the defendant to a term of 5 years. The appellate court reversed and remanded to the circuit court with directions to enter a judgment of conviction for theft from the person. (129 Ill. App.3d 940.) We granted the People's petition for leave to appeal (94 Ill.2d R. 315), and the defendant cross-appealed. 87 Ill.2d R. 318(a).

On September 12, 1983, at about 12:30 a.m., while crossing a street in downtown Peoria, Delores Thomas and Mary Ann Hall noticed four men standing on the corner. One, the defendant, walked toward Thomas, who was carrying a purse in her left hand. Her arm was at her side, and she was holding the purse at the zipper where the purse opened. Hall was walking about 2 to 3 feet behind Thomas.

When the defendant reached Thomas, he took her left hand with his left hand, and "touched" her fingertips as he pulled the purse from her hand with his right hand, leaving her fingers "a little red" but not bruised. As the defendant took Thomas' left hand, he pushed it back, immobilizing her arm and causing her body to be "turned slightly." She then "turned and watched him" flee. As he passed Hall, Thomas shouted to her that the defendant had stolen her purse. Hall did not see the defendant take the purse, but saw him as he ran past her.

Thomas and Hall immediately reported the crime, giving complete descriptions of the four men to Peoria police. They described the purse snatcher as having a half-moon-shaped scar under his left eye and said he was carrying a radio with a rope shoulder strap. Shortly afterwards, police brought in Michael Bowel and John Griffin, neither of whom was the purse snatcher, but Hall recognized them as two of the four men they had seen on the corner.

The next day Officer Dave Millard showed Thomas a group of photos, one being a photo of Glen Cooley. Thomas recognized Cooley as one of the group of four men. Somewhat remarkably, however, she did not tell this to Millard since the officer asked only for identification of the purse snatcher. When Millard specifically pointed out Cooley, Thomas answered that she was positive he was not the purse snatcher. Four days later, at a lineup with Cooley in it, Thomas stated again that Cooley was not the man. On September 18, Millard showed Thomas another group of photos from which Thomas identified a photograph of the defendant as being the man who took her purse.

The following day at the police station, the defendant told Millard that on the night of the crime he had been with Michael Bowel and John Griffin, who he said were his brothers, and Glen Cooley. As they were walking, they saw two women crossing the street. The defendant said that Cooley, who was carrying a tape player, then "took off toward the two women and snatched one of their purses." The next day, Thomas and Hall individually viewed a lineup and positively identified the defendant as the purse snatcher. At trial also both women identified the defendant.

The People contend that in taking the purse there was sufficient use of force to warrant a conviction of robbery. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 18-1.) The defendant's response is that the offense was theft from the person, a lesser offense. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 16-1.) He says that he did not strike or shove the victim; that there was no struggle for possession; and that the victim was completely surprised by the snatching as evident from her "lack of precaution" in the manner she carried the purse.

Our statute provides that robbery is committed when one "takes property from the person or presence of another by the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 18-1.) "[T]he degree of force necessary to constitute robbery must be such that the power of the owner to retain his property is overcome, either by actual violence physically applied, or by putting him in such fear as to overpower his will." People v. Williams (1961), 23 Ill.2d 295, 301; People v. Ryan (1909), 239 Ill. 410, 412; Hall v. People (1898), 171 Ill. 540, 542; People v. Thomas (1983), 119 Ill. App.3d 464, 466.

We consider that the trial court was correct in holding there was a robbery and not a theft from the person.

This court's decision in People v. Patton (1979), 76 Ill.2d 45, is distinguishable. In Patton, the victim was carrying her purse by her fingertips and her arm was at her side. As the defendant came beside the victim, he "`swift[ly] grab[bed]' her purse, throwing her arm back `a little bit,'" and fled. (People v. Patton (1979), 76 Ill.2d 45, 47.) There the State argued that any amount of physical force used to overcome the force exerted by a victim in maintaining control over an object held in hand was sufficient to constitute robbery. In rejecting the State's argument, this court held that the "snatching" of the purse from the victim was not in itself sufficient use of force to constitute robbery. The court considered that where an article is taken "`without any sensible or material violence to the person, as snatching a hat from the head or a cane or umbrella from the hand' the offense will be held to be theft from the person rather than robbery." People v. Patton (1979), 76 Ill.2d 45, 52.

In Patton there was no "sensible" violence. The force involved was seemingly imperceptible to the victim. The opinion states that the victim "did not realize what was happening until after the defendant had begun his flight." (76 Ill.2d 45, 48.) The question there was "whether the simple taking or `snatching' of a purse from the fingertips of its unsuspecting possessor in itself" was sufficient force to constitute robbery. (76 Ill.2d 45, 48.) Here there was more than a simple snatching. The force involved was greater. The victim was aware the defendant was approaching her. The defendant reached out and took hold of her left hand. He pulled the purse from Thomas' hand and at the same time pushed her hand behind her so she could not pull it toward ...

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