So say a bank robber walks into a bank and hands the teller a note saying simply "please give me $1,000" (or maybe even just verbally saying "I need $1,000 please") and if the teller accepts, which they probably would because they're supposed to comply with the robber, he takes the money, otherwise if they refuse, he leaves.

How is this different than say people asking for charity donations in the street? He just politely requested money without making any threats.

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    Who said that is not legal? Robbery without threats is no robbery. By definition, robbery includes violence, intimidation or the threat of force. The teller doesn't need to comply because a person saying "I need $1,000 please" is not a robber unless they threaten. – Greendrake Nov 17 at 22:05
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    The teller thought it was a threat, or wouldn't have given you the money. – gnasher729 Nov 17 at 22:11
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    @gnasher729 I guess tellers need some objective reason to think that they're being threatened vs asked. Otherwise any silly beggar popped in a bank would be charged with robbery. At the end of the day, "I need $1,000 please" could mean an account holder wishing to withdraw cash. – Greendrake Nov 17 at 22:31
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    @Greendrake: if you tell the cashier to give you $1,000 and the cashier does not feel threatened, he will simply say "no". – Martin Argerami Nov 18 at 5:49
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    @MartinArgerami Actually rather than say no the cashier will probably just ask for your chip card or whatever means of identification the bank otherwise use for their customers. – kasperd Nov 18 at 11:18

As a concrete example, consider Missouri v. Coleman, where Coleman handed a teller a plastic bag and said "I need you to do me a favor. Put the money in this bag", and later as the manager approached, said "Ma'am, stop where you are and don't move any farther". Coleman was convicted of second degree robbery: but the appeals court found that he had not acted forcibly, so his conviction was overturned. Instead, the court entered a conviction for the lesser offense of stealing which is when one

Appropriates property or services of another with the purpose to deprive him or her thereof, either without his or her consent or by means of deceit or coercion

The act may also be termed "theft", as in Washington state. The thief is acting deceptively and thereby gaining control over property.

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    I think this answer includes the most important point: A court may rule it not being robbery - but it's still a crime: theft. – Falco Nov 19 at 11:25
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    If my church says I need to tithe 10% of my income or go to hell, could I argue that it was stealing by means of deceit - requiring them to prove that their claims were truthful? – Rob P. Nov 19 at 16:03
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    @RobP. IRS guidelines say that documents (for tax purposes etc) acknowledging donations to religious groups should say that "goods or services, if any, that the organization provided in return for the contribution consisted entirely of intangible religious benefits" if that's the case. My church does that for my tithes. You could argue that "not going to hell" is an intangible religious benefit, so there's no deception. Ask a new question if you have further questions. – Thunderforge Nov 19 at 18:04
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    @RobP. First, it would be fraud, not robbery or theft, since they aren't threatening you with immediate violence or taking your stuff without asking, but informing you of a putative state of facts over which they claim to have no control to get you to hand them over voluntarily... Second, It's for the prosecutor to make the case: They must prove that the claim made by the hypothetical churchman was not only not truthful, but was known to be untruthful by the person who made it. If they believe it, it's not fraud. – Ben Nov 19 at 18:54
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    @RobP.: At least section 508 of the Indian Penal Code mentions something about threats of acts inducing divine displeasure being a criminal offence: indiankanoon.org/doc/1734694 – Nav Nov 22 at 18:39

Generally, the law would not just look at the robber's literal words, but at how a reasonable person would understand them in context. And it will assume that the robber meant them to be understood in that way. Here, a reasonable person would understand such a note to be a threat of violence, so the law will assume the robber meant it as a threat.

Likewise, a mob boss who tells his associates to "take Joe for a ride" will not be able to avoid prosecution by insisting that he only told them to provide him with a pleasant sightseeing tour.

How is this different than say people asking for charity donations in the street?

Context is everything.

Obviously, someone asking for charity donations on the street will present themselves as a legal charity, like the Salvation Army, etc. If you meant "charity" in the sense of someone panhandling Panhandling | (Merriam-Webster), most if not all people will take the asking for $1000 as an absurd request and keep walking. It's possible that someone may take offense and the police may deem it an attempt at mugging or stealing, depending on jurisdiction, and see user6726's answer.

But to walk into a bank and ask for $1000, the context is completely different. That's because a bank is where the money is. You don't usually walk into a bank for anything other than a financial transaction, either a legal or an attempted illegal transaction. As the (apocryphal) saying goes, Willie Sutton (Wikipedia) robbed banks "Because that's where the money is".

So while it's possible that a polite bank robber trying to not be aggressive may get away with robbery under a lesser charge, anyone in a bank requesting an illegal withdrawal - by any means - is still a bank robber, and 99% of the time, I think a jury and judge will see that.

  • "You don't usually walk into a bank for anything other than a financial transaction" - I find busking & begging far more effective in banks and by cash points. Doing these activities in the cash point however is much less effective. – UKMonkey Nov 19 at 17:01

You can't have it both ways. Either the person used words or actions that, under the circumstances, caused the teller to reasonably fear that violence will occur if the money isn't given or they didn't. If the former, it's a threat. If the latter, the teller won't give them the money.

If their words caused the teller to give them money because the teller feared violence, and this was the intended result of their words and not totally unexpected, that's the definition of using a threat of force to obtain a thing of value.

The lack of use of force means, of course, that it's not a violent robbery. But if a reasonable teller feels threatened under the circumstances, it's a threat. If the teller doesn't, they won't give the person the money.

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    @Greendrake Because it is a complex, fact-specific question whether those words would be a threat in the circumstances or not. But what is undeniable is that either they are or they aren't, and my answer covers both cases. – David Schwartz Nov 19 at 5:13
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    @Greendrake For example, suppose someone walks up to you on the street and says, "Please give me your wallet", and you do. Whether or not they committed theft doesn't depend on a complex analysis of the phrase "Please give me your wallet" but an analysis of the facts and circumstances under which they said it and whether that would make someone feel threatened. Was it dark? Was it late? Were they armed? Did they block your path? What tone of voice did they use? And so on. The words alone aren't what gets analyzed. – David Schwartz Nov 19 at 5:22
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    @Greendrake Whatever. Either it is a threat or it isn't. If it's a threat, then the robbery was accomplished by means of a threat. If it isn't a threat, then the person wouldn't feel threatened and wouldn't turn over money. You can't have it both ways -- if you pick words that cause the person to turn over the money because he fears what the robber might do, then you've taken funds by threat. If you don't, then you won't get any money. It's really not complicated. – David Schwartz Nov 19 at 6:24
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    @bdb484 Exactly. If you carefully choose your words to, in the given facts and circumstances, cause the person to give you money out of fear, then you've chosen to obtain a valuable by threat. If you don't choose words to cause the person to give you the money out of fear, then unless you happen to get an unusual person, you won't succeed. (Of course you aren't stealing if someone fears you for no reason at all when you didn't even intend them to give you money and they just randomly throw money out of you because they found you scary for no reason.) – David Schwartz Nov 19 at 6:43
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    Whether the teller "feels threatened" (per your last paragraph) doesn't define whether or not there is a threat. It would need to be reasonable for them to feel threatened in the given scenario. – JBentley Nov 19 at 17:40

Robbery is theft carried out through force or the threat of force. The most important part of your hypothetical is that you're saying the person asks for money without making a threat (and presumably without force).

If that is the case, the person is not a robber and the transaction is not a robbery. It is, like you said, the equivalent of a request for a charitable donation, and it is legal.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – feetwet Nov 20 at 20:25
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    No, lack of force or threat of force doesn't magically make it not theft. – OrangeDog Nov 21 at 12:59
  • That's right. The bank's consent through its agent makes it not theft. Also not magic, just the law. – bdb484 Nov 21 at 15:12
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    @bdb484 : it amazes me how you still manage to miss the real life cases described in the other, highly upvoted answers. – vsz Nov 22 at 9:32
  • Our thread has already been moved to chat. If you'd like to pick up there, I'd be happy to do so. – bdb484 Nov 24 at 1:46

IMHO one factor which would be considered in some jurisdictions when deciding if a crime was committed in your scenario is that the cash in a cashier's drawer and in the bank vault is either the property of various depositors or else the property of the corporation that owns the bank, and thus of its shareholders, or possibly a mixture of the property of both.

The money acquired in your scenario is not the property of the cashier or of the bank manager. Thus the cashier and the bank manager don't have unlimited authority to hand out money like they would if it was their own money. Instead they are restricted to handing out money to those that it is their bank's policy to hand out money to, and in the amounts that it is their bank's policy.

Thus a person who makes bank employees pay him money he is not entitled to is making them steal money from its rightful owners. He is making them commit a crime. If person A tries to make person B commit a crime that person B wouldn't want to, and if person A succeeds in making person B commit that crime, person A should be considered to be equally guilty of the crime he makes person B commit, and he would be considered equally guilty inmost or all legal jurisdictions.

But what if the bank has a policy of giving the bank robber what he asks for and not making any trouble for him in hope that he leaves without harming any one? In that case the bank employees are following bank policy and doing as authorized. Therefore they are not stealing from the bank and the robber hasn't forced them to steal from the bank but has made a withdrawal that doesn't violate bank policy. So the bank robber shouldn't have committed any crimes, right?

Except that the nonviolent bank robber has let the bank employees think that he might be, and probably is, an evil, violent, homicidal bank robber. And thus he has acquired money from the bank by lying by omission about being a nonviolent bank robber, and thus by fraud, which is stealing. So the nonviolent bank robber is a criminal of a different type and might be given too options when arrested. He might testify that he is nonviolent and would never have hurt anyone, and thus be convicted of stealing by fraud, or else testify that he is violent and would have used force if opposed, and thus be convicted of using the threat of violence to commit bank robbery.

I suspect that any legal loophole that anyone can think of has been thought of before by criminals and lawmakers and has been closed by legistation and/or legal precedents in various trials.

Scenario in other words. Rob walks in a bank and asks Bob for $1000. Bob hands them to Rob and Rob walks away. No treats, no injuries.

In the scenario propsed Rob is not a robber, he is not a sole person to commit a crime and the crime is not a robbery.

Money are transferred from the bank to Rob on Rob's request without proper authorisation from the bank. That is theft.

Bob actively transfer the money from the bank to Rob without proper authorisation. That is theft too.

Both Bob and Rob commited theft, which is not a robbery, yet is still illegal.

The best way to rob a bank is to own one.

Suppose the bank owner takes money from the bank, without violence or threats thereof.

Why shouldn't a bank robbery without threats be legal?

Because the person committing the illegal act is taking other people's property without their permission. It probably wouldn't be classed as a robbery, but it's still illegal.

Why should it be illegal for someone to come into your house through an unlocked front door and take all your valuables while you're out? The logic is similar.

In the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life," the central conflict comes from protagonist George Bailey misplacing depositor's money. He's in (potential) trouble for a (false but not disprovable) accusation of stealing from the bank's depositors. If you watch that film in the coming holiday season, notice how upset the townspeople are at learning that the money they thought they'd put in the bank for safekeeping might not really be all there or as accessible as they'd hoped. Notice the bank examiner's role, to check for potential issues like this.

Would you be upset if you put money in the bank, and when you went to withdraw it, found that you couldn't do so because the money had been given to someone else who hadn't first deposited or otherwise legitimately "earned" the funds (e.g. through interest or a promotion)? A majority of people would, so they support laws that make this illegal.

Notes: There are also other laws opposing that outcome, such as government-backed deposit insurance, but uses of this take money from the many to compensate for the private enrichment of the few who took those funds, so there is support for laws that attempt to hold those few accountable. Also, due to fractional reserve banking, most banks today don't have enough cash on hand to cover all the deposits, but they are supposed to have assets (like outstanding loans) to cover them.

  • What? You don't seem to have a coherent point here. By the way if you put your money in a bank then for all practical purposes it's now the bank's money and all you have is a claim to it. (Not a lawyer, so what I just said probably isn't entirely accurate or precise). They go and spend your money to buy investments and stuff, and you don't complain about that. The $1000 being stolen comes out of the bank's profits, not out of your account. – immibis Nov 20 at 3:05
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    @immibis If the bank's profits go negative far enough, it could be that some people arrive to withdraw and the bank doesn't have the money to cover it. If the bank goes bankrupt, depositors can lose money. That used to happen more often, but now in many countries the government insures depositors' funds up to some limit, and rich depositors can still lose deposits if the bank gambles away too much of that money. – WBT Nov 20 at 19:14
  • That is correct, but it's not going to happen because of one robbery. It shouldn't even happen if everyone withdraws all their money - as long as they do it slowly. What the bank can't handle is having to give everyone all their cash all at once, which is called a bank run, because the bank can't just sell all their investments to get the cash back any time they want. – immibis Nov 20 at 20:42
  • @immibis One taking or many added up, by a party in a privileged position within the bank, can be quite a large sum, considerably more than what an armed robber at one branch location might make off with. It can be enough so that even if the bank does sell all its investments, there's not enough left for the depositors. A market crash, which might be triggered by a large institution failing to act as expected, can make this scenario more likely as the investments aren't worth as much. – WBT Nov 20 at 21:09

protected by BlueDogRanch Nov 20 at 18:25

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