29 Aug 23

Bank Robbery Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Bank Robbery Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

Bank robbery is a serious federal crime that carries strict penalties and lengthy prison sentences. This article provides a comprehensive overview of bank robbery laws, charges, punishments, sentencing guidelines, defenses, cases, and statutes of limitations across all 50 states.

What is Bank Robbery?

Bank robbery refers to stealing money from a bank through force, violence, or intimidation of bank employees, customers, or bystanders. It involves taking or attempting to take money or property by intimidation or through actual force and violence.

Even if no weapon is shown, a written or verbal demand for money escalates the crime to bank robbery. The FBI has jurisdiction over bank robberies because financial institutions are federally insured by the FDIC. Bank robbery is covered under Title 18, Section 2113 of the US Criminal Code.

Why are Bank Robberies Federal Crimes?

Bank robberies are federal crimes because banks are insured by the federal government. This gives the FBI jurisdiction to investigate bank robberies under the Federal Bank Robbery Act of 1934.

The law was later expanded to include burglary, larceny, and any crimes against financial institutions. The FBI continues to lead bank robbery investigations today, although they work closely with state and local law enforcement.

Bank Robbery Crimes and Charges

There are several bank robbery charges under federal law, depending on the circumstances:

  • Unarmed Bank Robbery: Entering a bank to take money by force or intimidation is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine.
  • Armed/Aggravated Bank Robbery: Using a weapon or causing assault/danger during a robbery can lead to up to 25 years in prison and a fine.
  • Accessory to Bank Robbery: Aiding the robber by receiving stolen money can result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine.
  • Bank Robbery Resulting in Death: If someone is killed during a bank robbery, the charges can include life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Bank Robbery Punishments

The punishment for bank robbery depends on the circumstances and charges brought. Fines can range from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars. Prison sentences start around 10 years for basic robbery and go up to 25 years or more when kidnapping, assault, or murder occurs.

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Some key factors determining punishment include:

  • Use of weapons or threats
  • Amount of money stolen
  • Injuries or deaths
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking
  • Criminal history of the defendant

Harsher penalties apply to armed robberies involving actual violence or weapons. Previous convictions can also increase sentences under federal guidelines. Life imprisonment or death may be imposed in certain egregious cases resulting in murder.

Bank Robbery Sentencing Guidelines

Federal judges follow sentencing guidelines that take into account different factors when determining penalties for bank robbery:

  • Use of weapons – Longer sentences apply if a real or threatened weapon was involved. Type of weapon also matters.
  • Amount stolen – More money taken means a stricter sentence.
  • Injuries or deaths – Causing harm or death leads to significantly increased prison time.
  • Kidnapping victims – Abducting people during a robbery is an aggravating factor.
  • Criminal history – Repeat offenders face longer sentences based on past crimes.
  • Acceptance of responsibility – Admitting guilt and making amends can slightly reduce prison time.

Robbery sentencing generally follows guidelines in Section 2B3.1 of the Federal Sentencing Manual.

Bank Robbery Defenses

While bank robbery charges are serious, several legal defenses are available:

  • Duress – You can claim you were forced to commit the robbery under immediate threat of death or harm.
  • Intoxication – You may argue that you were too impaired to form necessary criminal intent.
  • Insanity – You can claim you lacked capacity to understand the criminality of your actions.
  • Mistaken identity – You can argue the prosecution has the wrong person and you have an alibi.
  • False accusations – You may claim the witnesses or evidence against you are unreliable or fabricated.
  • Entrapment – You can allege police induced you into committing a robbery you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate if any defenses apply in your case to get charges reduced or dismissed.

Bank Robbery Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations sets the time limit for prosecuting different crimes. For federal bank robbery crimes, the statute of limitations is 5 years. This means the prosecution has 5 years from the date of the offense to file charges. Some state laws may have longer statutes of limitations that apply.

Famous Bank Robbery Cases

  • John Dillinger – His gang robbed dozens of banks in the 1930s Midwest, leading to the FBI hunting him down.
  • Bonnie and Clyde – The notorious couple robbed small banks during the Great Depression.
  • Willie Sutton – The FBI’s “Public Enemy No. 1” was a prolific bank robber known for breaking out of prisons before his final capture.
  • Patty Hearst – Newspaper heiress-turned bank robber who participated in SLA crimes before her famous trial.
  • Ted Kaczynski – The anti-tech terrorist known as the Unabomber robbed banks to fund his activities.
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State Bank Robbery Laws

In addition to federal bank robbery laws, most states also have their own robbery statutes that may apply:


  • Bank robbery is a Class A felony punishable by 10-99 years in prison and up to a $60,000 fine.


  • Bank robbery is punishable by 3-9 years in prison under CA Penal Code 211 PC. Sentences vary based on criminal history and violence used.


New York


State Sentencing Guidelines

Many states have their own sentencing guidelines judges consult when determining penalties for bank robbery based on aggravating factors like criminal history, use of weapons, and harm caused.

Bank Robbery Prevention Tips

Banks utilize various security measures to prevent robberies, such as:

  • Access control systems and buzzer entry
  • Bullet-resistant bandit barriers
  • Time-delayed cash boxes
  • Bait money with recorded serial numbers
  • Surveillance cameras
  • Security guards
  • Anti-theft dye packs in cash bundles
  • GPS tracking devices in money bundles
  • Limiting cash on hand


Bank robbery is a serious felony with potentially lengthy prison time at the federal and state levels. Charges and penalties imposed depend on specific circumstances surrounding the robbery. Consult an attorney immediately if you are questioned or charged related to an alleged bank robbery. With an experienced legal defense, you may be able to negotiate a plea deal or even get charges reduced or dismissed.