Review of Federal Bank Robbery Laws, Penalties, and Best Defenses
The federal crime of bank robbery is defined under the United States Code Title 18, Section 2113 as part of a statute that also includes other theft-related crimes.
Bank robbery is described as taking, using force or intimidation, any money or property under the custody and control of a bank, credit union, or savings and loan institution.
This federal law also includes robbery of an armored truck, night depository, and an automatic teller machine (ATM).
Further, 18 U.S.C. § 2113 covers a situation where you enter a financial institution with the intent to commit a felony crime affecting the institution, or to commit any type of theft offense.
Put simply, federal bank robbery laws not only prohibit the traditional method of approaching a bank teller and demanding money with threats or a weapon, but also a wide range of other felony conduct.
While all states have laws prohibiting bank robbery, people are don't always know that most bank robbery cases are charged at the federal level.
If a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association is federally insured, then robbing or attempting to rob one of these institutions can result in federal criminal charges.
Federal bank robbery laws carry harsh consequences upon conviction and can even result in the death penalty. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review the laws below.
What is Bank Robbery?
Bank robbery is most commonly known as what we see depicted in movies where one or more people enter a bank and rob it at gunpoint.
As noted, while the federal bank robbery statute does include that type of criminal activity, it also includes a broader spectrum of crime where the main constant is the bank or financial institution being the victim.
Bank robbery and related crimes can be found under 18 U.S.C. § 2113 of the United States Code. Under section (a) of this statute, bank robbery is defined as:
- “using force, violence, or intimidation to take, attempt to take, or extort any property or money in the possession of any bank, credit union, or savings and loan association.”
As noted above, bank robbery also is defined as entering or attempting to enter any bank, credit union, or savings and loan association with the intent to commit a felony inside or any larceny.
There are criminal enhancements to bank robbery charges that include taking hostages or killing anyone.
Lesser included bank robbery crime
18 U.S.C. § 2113 also includes language of a lesser-included offense of taking money or valuables within a financial institution without the typical force or fear element that is required for a traditional bank robbery charge.
The lesser-included crime can be punished by up to one year in a federal prison and this law also applies to any person who receives, conceals, or disposes of stolen property taken from the bank.
What are the Related Federal Statutes?
The 18 U.S.C. § 2113 federal bank robbery statute also has additional related crimes resulting from a theft involving a bank, including:
- 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) - federal burglary or larceny;
- 18 U.S.C. § 2113(c) - federal receipt of stolen bank property;
- 18 U.S.C. § 2113(d) - federal assault with a deadly weapon;
- 18 U.S.C. § 371 – federal conspiracy statute.
Under section (b) of the statute, the act of taking and carrying away any property which has a value exceeding $1,000 belonging to or in the care of a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association is classified as a federal felony.
Section (b) of the statute also criminalizes the act of taking and carrying away any property which has a value not exceeding $1,000 belonging to or in the care of a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association.
This crime is classified as a misdemeanor under the bank robbery statute.
Section (c) of the statute criminalizes the receipt of stolen money or property belonging to a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association.
If you are negotiating a plea regarding bank robbery charges, you may be able to instead plead to lesser but related crimes such as these. These charges can also accompany a bank robbery charge.
What Are the Penalties?
The penalties for 18 U.S.C. § 2113 bank robbery and other related crimes under the federal bank robbery statute have an extremely wide range for a shortlist of crimes.
- Under section (a), a robbery or attempted bank robbery can result in up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000;
- Under section (b), taking money from a bank, credit union, or savings and loan association could result in up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine if the amount alleged to have been taken exceeds $1,000. If the amount alleged to have been taken under this section does not exceed $1,000, then the maximum possible penalty is up to one year in jail and a fine;
- Under section (c), anyone possessing, receiving, or disposing of money or property stolen from a bank, credit union, or federal savings and loan are subject to the same penalties as section (b);
- If someone is taken hostage, then a minimum of 10 years can be imposed;
- If someone is killed, then the death penalty can be imposed.
If you used violence in the commission of the bank robbery, then you will be facing more severe penalties.
If you assaulted someone during the bank robbery, or put someone's life in danger with use of a deadly weapon or device, then you could be sentenced for up to 25 years in a federal prison.
If during the bank robbery, or an attempt to escape, somebody is kidnapped or killed, there is a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years, and the maximum penalty is life in prison or the death penalty.
What Are the Best Defenses to Bank Robbery?
The circumstances of each case will lend themselves to any possible defenses. A common defense is mistaken identification.
Disguises are often used during a bank robbery, so the mistaken identification defense is often available unless the defendant was apprehended on the scene.
Perhaps the actual bank robber was wearing a mask, which often occurs, and the federal prosecutor could find it difficult to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the person robbing the bank.
If a defendant does not use any force or intimidation, then they can also seek to be found guilty of the lesser included offense of taking money or property from a bank.
For example, if you used fraud or deceit to obtain funds from the bank electronically, you might be found guilty of a federal fraud crime, but not federal bank robbery.
This would help the defendant avoid the more serious robbery charges and potential punishments.
If someone threatens a defendant with harm into participating in the commission or planning of a robbery, they may have a claim of duress.
Of course, an opportunity for a duress defense is limited, but could include a situation where somebody threatens your family with imminent physical harm if you don't agree to participate in the crime.
If the robbed institution was not a bank or credit union which is defined under 18 U.S.C. 2113(f) thru (h), then you can't be guilty of federal bank robbery, but would rather face charges at in a state-level court with lesser penalties.
If you are under a federal bank robbery investigation, before any criminal charges have been formally filed, we might be able to intervene by negotiating with the prosecutor, which can increase your chances at a favorable plea bargain or even get the case dismissed.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County and you can contact us for an initial consultation at (877) 781-1570, or fill out our contact form.