Bank robbery has a long and sometimes even a somewhat glamorized history, thanks in large part to its depiction in films and TV. But the reality is that it is one of the most serious crimes a person can be charged with, leading to very long prison sentences and other penalties. Bank robbery is just what it sounds like – the act of stealing from a bank while employees and bystanders are subjected to violence, the threat of violence, or force. It’s slightly different from burglary in that burglary usually involves breaking into the bank while it is closed.
The FBI had had a major role in federal bank robbery cases going back to the 1930s. That was when John Dillinger and his gang were conducting bank robberies across the Midwest. It was in 1934 that it became a federal crime to rob a national bank or a state member bank that is part of the Federal Reserve System. That law was soon expanded to include larceny, bank burglary and related crimes. The jurisdiction for all of these serious federal crimes was given to the FBI. In the modern era, the FBI focuses its major resources on suspects that pose the most serious safety threat to the general public. The Bureau also continues to provide regular assistance to state and local law enforcement in the investigation of bank robberies in local jurisdictions.
Bank Robbery Statistics
Below are some statistics in recent years about US bank robberies, according to FBI data:
- Of the 53 bank robberies reported to the St. Louis MO FBI bureau in 2014, 74% or 39 of them were solved. The solve rate for this area was higher than the national average of 56%. About one third of the cases were solved on the day that the robbery happened because of the fast response from local police. The rest were solved through an extensive law enforcement investigation.
- In 2016, FBI statistics state that there were a total of 4251 bank robberies in the US.
- The number of people who were known to participate in the 4251 bank robberies was 4900. Of those 4900, 1797 were white men, 2164 were black men, 185 were white women and 131 were black women.
- Of the 4900 people in the robberies, 2537 were identified as of mid-2017. Of those, 40% were found to be drug users, and 27% had been convicted of a state or federal bank robbery before.
- The most common day for bank robberies to occur is on Fridays, with a total of 913 robberies in 2016; the least likely time is on Sunday with 51 robberies. The most common time was from 9 to 11 am.
- The most common type of facility that was robbed were commercial banks with 3733 robberies. Credit unions were the next most common with 343 robberies. There also were 17 armed carrier robberies.
- In all of the robberies in 2016 reported to the FBI, 2267 used a demand note; 590 involved a firearm; 965 used a handgun; 2361 threatened the use of a weapon; 1958 made only an oral demand for money; 48 robbed the till themselves; and 285 took over the bank. There also were 34 robberies involving the drive up window, and three robberies from the night deposit box.
- Acts of violence were committed during 146 of the 4251 robberies. There were 43 cases of a firearm being discharged, 72 assaults and 31 instances of hostages taken. There also were 43 injuries and eight deaths, but seven of those were of the bank robbers themselves.
- California had the most bank robberies in 2016 with 462 reported to the FBI.
The average amount of money taken according to 2012 statistics was $9521.
Bank Robbery Laws
Bank robbery laws are much harsher than those set forth for ‘normal’ robbery. The primary reason for this is that banks are federal institutions, not private entities like stores or other commonly robbed establishments. This means that robbing a bank is a federal crime – one that carries with it federal charges and federal punishment. As a result, the penalties for bank robbery will almost always be much longer than other robbery charges will be.
It’s important to note that a weapon doesn’t even need to be involved for one to be charged with bank robbery. Nothing more than passing a note to a teller that demands money will be considered bank robbery. In practically all instances, bank robbery will be prosecuted by the federal government.
Bank Robbery Crimes and Charges
Bank robbery is covered under Title 18, section 2113 of the US Code. There are numerous types of robbery, and things like the method of robbery and the amount of money stolen will dictate the specifics of a penalty. The basic things to understand are:
- Any person who enters a building used in whole or in part as a bank with the intent to forcibly remove funds or commit any felony that will affect the institution could face a serious fine and up to 20 years in prison. This includes simply walking into a bank and handing a note to a teller.
- In instances where a robbery places another person’s life in jeopardy or involves assault, a more serious fine and up to 25 years in prison are possible. This includes making threats, using any weapon during a robbery, and even using toy weapons during a robbery.
- Those who receive, conceal, or otherwise accept anything taken from a bank could face a fine and as much as 10 years in prison.
- Robberies that involve a perpetrator killing another person or abducting them could face even more serious penalties, including life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
Bank Robbery Punishment
As mentioned above, the charge of bank robbery is only one that a person can face as a result of a robbery. Additional charges including kidnapping, assault, and even murder could be faced. As a result, the specifics of a robbery will have a direct impact on the resulting punishment. Fines can range from $1,000 up to tens of thousands. Prison sentences usually begin at around 10 years in prison and will reach 25 years for a standard robbery charge. When kidnapping or murder is included as well, life sentences and possibly the death penalty could be punishments as well. Criminal history and other factors can influence the punishment handed down if a conviction occurs.
Bank Robbery Sentencing Guidelines
Bank robbery convictions are based upon the specifics of a robbery. A wide range of things may add time to a sentence. Potential influencing factors used during sentencing include:
- Whether or not a weapon was used. The type of weapon could also influence the sentence.
- The total amount of money stolen during the robbery.
- Whether or not people were injured or killed during the robbery
- Whether or not a person or persons were abducted during the robbery.
- Criminal history of the individual. The federal sentencing guidelines assign every offender one of six criminal history categories. This is based upon how long his sentences were for past crimes and how recently they occurred.
- Whether the person accepts responsibility for the crime. For example, if the suspect admits that he was involved in the crime or makes restitution before there is a guilty verdict, the sentence may be reduced somewhat
Robbery is usually sentenced in a similar manner to extortion and blackmail, and follows standard guidelines in Section 2B3.1 in the Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual.
Bank Robbery Statute Of Limitations
Under federal law, the statute of limitations for bank robbery is 5 years. After that time, a person can’t be tried at the federal level. However, certain state laws may exist that could lead to charges with much longer statute of limitations.
Bank Robbery Defenses
Bank robbery defendants are facing serious federal charges, but there are several effective ways to mount a defense. The defense can attempt to argue that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not show that they committed the crime. Defendants also can admit that they performed the crime but also contend that the presence of certain facts make them not culpable for the crime.
In any criminal prosecution, the federal government must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This level of burden of proof means that the defendant in a bank robbery case can avoid conviction by attacking the evidence presented by the government, or offering evidence that undermines their case. For instance, the bank robbery defendant may argue that he has an alibi that he can prove, showing that he left the state a week before the robbery occurred. Or, he might argue that he had attended a party when the robbery occurred and witnesses can back him up. The defense also may challenge the reliability of eyewitness ID, the quality of security cameras and any other evidence the prosecution has.
While these tactics may sound far fetched, remember that the defendant does not have to convince the jury he is innocent. He only needs to introduce reasonable doubt into the case.
In some robbery cases, the defendant may offer proof that they were intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time of the offense. This could be involuntary intoxication, where any intoxication that was outside the control of the defendant could excuse any criminal behavior that occurred.
There also are cases where a robbery suspect can plea to a lesser charge because he was voluntarily intoxicated at the time of the crime. The major question in a voluntary intoxication defense is whether the accused would have been able to form the necessary intent to engage in robbery. Robbery requires the accused to have intent to use violence or coercion to steal the property of another party, but being intoxicated can possibly make the defendant incapable of forming this intent.
If another party forces the defendant to commit a bank robbery that they would not have otherwise committed, it may be possible to use an entrapment defense. An entrapment case is not easy to prove. But if the defendant can prove that the party that was robbed somehow instigated the event so that charges would be brought against the person, entrapment could be argued.
If you can prove that another party forced you to commit the robbery by threatening you with death or bodily harm, this could be a defense to robbery charges. Proving this is difficult, and some courts will reject a duress defense because the accused did not have enough fear of harm, or because he had plenty of opportunity to avoid committing the robbery without risking death or serious harm.
Bank Robbery Cases
Bank robbery is one of the most heavily publicized crimes in the country, and plenty of infamous cases exist including:
- The Northfield Raid – Frank and Jesse James attempted this robbery, which led to the end of the James Brothers when the robbery went south quickly.
- The Trench Coat Robbery – This 1997 robbery saw a pair of men dressed in trench coats steal $4.46 million in cash. It took over a year before the culprits were captured.
- The Central Nation Bank Robbery – John Dillinger remains one of the most infamous bank robbers in history, and this was his biggest score – netting him over $75,000 in cash.
Bank Robbery Laws by State
The following lists bank robbery laws, penalities, punishments and penal codes by state.
Bank robbery charges in Alabama are covered under Alabama Code Title 13A. Criminal Code Section 13A-8-41. They classify bank robbery as a Class A felony, leading to a prison sentence of between 10 and 99 years and fines of up to $60,000.
Alaska classifies bank robbery under AS 11.41.500. Robbery in the First Degree. This is considered as a Class A felony and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of no more than $250,000.
Arizona robbery charges are covered under ARS 13-1902, ARS 13-1903, and ARS 13-1904, can be simple robbery (a Class 4 felony resulting in between four months to three years in prison), aggravated robbery (a Class 3 felony resulting in between two to seven years in prison), and armed robbery (a Class 2 felony resulting in between four and 10 years in prison). Arizona also has presumptive sentences, meaning that the starting point of the sentence will be in the middle of the minimum and maximum, after which the judge will take aggravating and mitigating factors into consideration.
Arkansas’ bank robbery laws are covered under Arkansas Code Title 5. Criminal Offenses Sections 5-12-102 and 5-12-103. In many cases, bank robberies are classified as aggravated robberies, which means they are charged as a class Y felony. This carries a minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment and a maximum of 40 years, which is life.
California covers bank robbery under Penal Code 211 PC. It generally considers bank robbery to be a first degree offense resulting in three, six, or nine years in prison. This varies depending on aggravating circumstances, such as criminal history and whether the crime was violent or not.
Colorado’s Revised Statutes Title 18 Criminal Code Section 18-4-301 and 18-4-302 cover bank robbery charges. Generally speaking, a bank robbery would be classed as an aggravated robbery, which is a class 3 felony. This is also classed as a crime of extraordinary risk, which means presumptive sentencing that is relevant to the crime has been modified.
Connecticut General Statutes 53a-133, 53a-134, and 53a-135 define robbery and classify it in the state of Connecticut. It is also covered under Chapter 952 of the Penal Code. The conduct involved in the robbery itself will determine the degree of the robbery itself, and the felony class. All degrees of robbery are considered as felony offenses. Usually, a five year minimum sentence is imposed.
Bank robbery is covered under the Delaware Code, Laws of Delaware, Chapter 246 – Robbery. The exact circumstances of the robbery will determine the sentence. However, it is always classed as a felony, which implies a minimum sentence of three years in prison and maximum sentence of 25 years as well as a fine of at least $500.
Florida’s bank robbery charges are covered under the 2017 Florida Statutes, Title XLVI, Chapter 812.13. A robbery can be classified either as a first or second degree felony, depending on aggravating circumstances, such as whether or not the offender was armed. Sentences can reach up to 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Georgia covers bank robbery charges under the 2010 Georgia Code, Title 16 – Crimes and Offenses, Chapter 8 – Offenses Involving Theft, Article 2 – Robbery, Section 16-8-40 – Robbery. A robbery offense carries with it a prison sentence of a minimum of one year and a maximum of 20 years. One particular aggravating circumstance is that of the victim being over the age of 65, in which case the sentences range from five to 20 years of imprisonment.
In Hawaii, bank robbery charges are covered by Hawaii Revised Statutes 7080-840 – Robbery in the First Degree. This is seen as a Class A felony, the most severe of all felonies in the state. It carries with it a sentence of up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of up to $50,000.
Bank robbery in Idaho is covered under Title 18 – Crimes and Punishments, Chapter 65 – Robbery, 18-6502, added 19722, ch. 336, sec. 1, p. 966. Under this statute, a minimum sentence of five years in state prison is associated. This imprisonment may, depending on the aggravating circumstances, be extended to life.
Illinois covers bank robbery under the Illinois General Assembly’s 720 ILCS 5/18-2. It can be classed as a class 1 felony (four to 15 years in prison and $25,000 in fines), a class 2 felony (three to seven years in prison and $25,000 in fines), or a class X felony (15 years to life).
Indiana covers bank robbery under Indiana Code Section 35-43-5-1 (Robbery). While this statute may define a robbery as a level 5 robbery, a bank robbery will generally be trialed at least as a level 3 robbery. This carries with it a prison sentence of no less than three and no more than 16 years in prison. If the offender already has two prior unrelated convictions, then one to three times the presumptive sentence may be imposed, up to a maximum of 30 years.
The Iowa Code 711.2 – Robbery in the First Degree covers bank robbery. This is considered a Class B felony. This carries a prison term of a maximum of 25 years. However, there are numerous aggravating circumstances, which are often present during a bank robbery, such as the use of a deadly weapon and/or firearm and causing actual bodily injury, that can increase this sentence, even to the level of a class A felony (up to life in prison without the possibility of parole).
Kansas legislature 2012 Statute, Article 54. Crimes against persons, 21-5420. Robbery; aggravated robbery covers the crime of bank robbery. In most cases, a bank robbery will be charged as a severity level 3, felony against the person. Kansas uses a grid system for sentencing, which means other aggravating and mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration.
Generally speaking, Kentucky classifies bank robbery as a first degree robbery, which is covered under 515.020. In the vast majority of cases associated with bank robbery, this would then be classified as a class C felony. Class C felonies lead to no less than ten years in prison and the maximum sentence often exceeds 20 years.
Different circumstances of bank robberies bring about different statutes in Louisiana. Most of the time, however, it is covered under the 2006 Louisiana Laws – RS 14:64.1 – First Degree Robbery or LA Rev Stat Section 14:64 – Armed Robbery. The latter carries with it a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of 99 years. An extra five years is added if a firearm was used rather than another deadly weapon, which means a 104 year sentence is possible.
Maine legislature Title 17-A: Maine Criminal Code, Part 2: Substantive Offenses, Chapter 27: Robbery, Section 652 and 651 cover the crime of bank robbery. In most cases, a bank robbery has a number of aggravating circumstances associated with it, such as the use of a deadly weapon, which is why it is usually charged as a Class A felony crime. This leads to a sentence of up to 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000.
Maryland covers bank robbery under Maryland Criminal Law Code Ann. Section 3-403. Without the use of a weapon or using the threat of a weapon, this can lead to 15 years in prison. With weapon involvement (real or threatened), sentences can increase to 20 years in prison. Various aggravating circumstances are taken into consideration.
The crime of bank robbery is governed in Massachusetts under Massachusetts G.L. c. 265, Section 19. Penalties for this crime usually range from 10 years to life in prison. Certain aggravating circumstances are taken into consideration, such as the involvement of vulnerable people and the presence of arms or the threat of arms. Mandatory sentences of two years may be applied, particularly to repeat offenders.
In Michigan, bank robbery varies in severity depending on whether or not arms were used. Armed robbery, which is more often than not the case with bank robberies, is covered under MCL 750.529, and MCL 750.89. Armed robbery is also a capital level charge. This means that the convict could serve life in prison.
The 2017 Minnesota Statutes classify bank robbery under 609.245 Aggravated Robbery, generally in the first degree. This means a maximum sentence of 20 years is imposed and/or a fine of up to $35,000.
Bank robbery in Mississippi is usually covered under MS Code Section 97-3-79 (2013). This is one of the most serious levels of crime in the state. It carries with it a sentence of three years to life imprisonment.
Missouri covers bank robbery under 570.023. 1. Bank robbery is almost always determined to be a class A felony, which is the most serious of crimes. Since January 1, 2017, the minimum sentence associated with this level of crime is 10 years and the maximum is 30 years or life imprisonment.
Under the Montana Code 45-5-401. Robbery, a prison sentence of at least two years but no more than 40 years is imposed for bank robbery. A fine of up to $50,000 may also be charged.
Nebraska legislature covers bank robbery under Nebraska Revised Statute 28-324. This is a Class II felony, which carries with it a minimum of one year imprisonment and a maximum of 50 years in prison.
In the state of Nevada, bank robbery is covered by statute NRS 200.380. This is generally classed as a category B felony. This means that, if convicted, the offender shall spend at least two years but no more than 15 years in state prison. Furthermore, aggravating circumstances may increase this sentence.
Bank robbery laws in New Hampshire are covered under NH RSA 636:1. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, this can lead to seven and a half to 15 years in prison.
In New Jersey, robbery is covered under NJSA 2C:15-1, which dictates it can be a first or second degree robbery. New Jersey is known for its harsh penalties for robbery crimes and it can lead to between five and 30 years in prison. Indeed, in some circumstances, a mandatory sentence of five years may be imposed.
New Mexico classifies bank robbery as a first degree felony. These crimes are punishable by up to 18 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. If the felony resulted in the death of a child, life imprisonment can be imposed.
New York’s Consolidated Laws, Penal Law – PEN Section 160.10 govern bank robbery charges. A first degree robbery is a class B felony (up to 25 years in prison), a second degree robbery is a class C felony (up to 15 years in prison), and a third degree robbery is a class D felony (up to seven years in prison).
North Carolina has extensive robbery laws in place under section 14-87. Statutes define such as acts as using firearms, safe cracking, and more, which is of influence in sentencing. Sentencing guidelines generally recommend a Class I felony conviction for bank robbery. The state also uses a punishment grid, which means aggravating factors such as vulnerability of victims, whether or not weapons and/or violence were present or used, and prior convictions of the offender will be taken into consideration.
North Dakota covers bank robbery under 12.1-22-01. Robbery. This generally defines it as being a class A felony, although there are some mitigating circumstances that can reduce this to class B or even class C, albeit rarely. A class A felony carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and/or a fine of no more than $20,000.
Robbery in Ohio is governed by the Ohio Revised Code, ORC – 2911.02 Robbery. Robbery can range from first to third degree felony depending on the aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime. Hence, the penalties range from one to 10 years in prison.
How bank robbery is charged in Oklahoma depends mainly on the circumstances of the crime, which will determine how severely it is punished. In many cases, bank robbery is a robbery committed by more than one person. In that case, it is a conjoint robbery, a felony crime leading to up to 50 years in prison.
Bank robberies in Oregon are covered under ORS 164.395. In most cases, a bank robbery will be classified as a first degree robbery. A prison sentence of 90 months is generally given for this.
Pennsylvania governs bank robbery under Statutes Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. Crimes and Offenses Section 3701. Robbery. Depending on the circumstances of the case, this crime can be charged as a first, second, or third degree felony. Sentences range from up to seven years in prison to up to 20 years in prison.
Bank robbery in Rhode Island is covered under Chapter 11-39. In most cases, bank robbery is classified as a first degree robbery. This means that a prison sentence of no less than 10 years and no more than life in prison will be imposed. In addition, a fine of up to $15,000 may be charged. There are aggravating circumstances, such as vulnerability of the victims, that will be taken into consideration.
The South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 16 – Crimes and Offenses, Chapter 11 – Offenses Against Property, Article 5 – Burglary, Housebreaking, Robbery and the Like covers bank robbery charges. In most cases, bank robbery will be classified as burglary in the first degree, which is a felony that can carry a life imprisonment sentence, meaning until death. The court has the discretion to impose a minimum sentence of 15 years.
South Dakota has extensive bank robbery statutes: SDC 1939, Section 13.2601; SL 1976, ch 158, Section 30-1, 1978, ch 158, Section 11; and SL 2005, ch 120, Section 24. Bank robbery is classified as a felony offense. Nine different classes of felonies exist in the state, and bank robbery will generally be charged as a Class 1 felony, which carries with it a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison as well as a fine of up to $50,000.
In Tennessee, all robberies are covered under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-13-401. This is generally seen as a class B felony, carrying with it an eight to 30 years imprisonment range and fines up to $25,000.
Texas governs bank robbery charges under Penal Code Chapter 29. Robbery. Depending on the circumstances of the charge, people can face second degree felony chargers (up to 20 years in prison), or first degree felony charges (up to 99 years in prison).
Bank robbery in Utah is covered under 76-6-301. Robbery. The crime is classed as a second degree felony and carries a sentence of between one and 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Vermont covers bank robberies under Title 13: Crimes and Criminal Procedure; Chapter 13: Assaults; Section 608. Assault and Robbery. A number of aggravating factors will increase the maximum sentence of 10 years. For instance, using a dangerous weapon or threatening to use one increases the maximum sentence to 15 years. If any bodily injury is caused during the crime, the maximum sentence increases to 20 years.
The Va. Code 18.2-58 covers bank robbery charges. Robbery is either a second degree crime (between five and 18 years in prison) or a first degree crime (10 years to life in prison). Mandatory sentences of three years exist for first time offenders, increased to five years for repeat offenders.
Bank robbery in the state of Washington is covered under Chapter 9A.56 RCW, Theft and Robbery, 9A.56.200, Robbery in the First Degree. This is defined in RCW 7.88.010 or 35.38.060 and is a class A felony, the most serious of felonies in Washington. There are numerous aggravating factors, such as prior criminal convictions, the use of a weapon, and inflicting bodily injury. Without those factors, a sentence of between 31 and 42 months is imposed. Use of a deadly weapon adds two years to this and use of a firearm adds five years. Meanwhile, those who have nine criminal history points will see their sentence increased to a total of between 129 and 171 months.
West Virginia covers bank robbery under WV Code 12 Chapter 61 Article 2. In February 2011, the senate passed a bill to increase penalties for all robberies, making it a first degree felony.
Wisconsin classifies bank robberies under 943.32 Robbery. Robbery is usually a class E felony. However, if a deadly weapon was used, or there was threat thereof, it increases to a class C felony, which is much more serious. A class C felony in Wisconsin carries a maximum sentence of 40 years and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
Wyoming classifies bank robberies under WY Stat Section 6-2-401: 6-2-401. Robbery; aggravated. This is a felony offense leading to between five and 25 years in prison.
- FBI Bank Crime Statistics. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/bank-crime-statistics-2016.pdf/view
- Robbery Defenses. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/robbery-defenses.html
- FBI Bank Robbery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/bank-robbery