29 Jun 20

NY Penal Law § 160.15: Robbery in the First Degree

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Last Updated on: 5th August 2023, 01:32 am

If you are accused of a robbery offense, that means you have been accused of more than just stealing.  To be accused of robbery means you also used force or the threat of violence to accomplish the theft. Because of the added element of force or violence, law enforcement classifies robbery as a particularly serious crime. Among the three degrees of the crime of robbery, robbery in the first degree is the most heinous.  You will face this charge pursuant to New York Penal Code § 160.15 if you steal from someone while you are armed with a deadly weapon, you use a dangerous instrument, you cause the victim or another person to sustain a serious physical injury, or you display a gun or firearm. New York Penal Code § 10.00(12) delineates a “deadly weapon” as any loaded weapon such as a gun, or other weapons, including but not limited to: 

  1. switchblade knife, 
  2. gravity knife, 
  3. pilum or ballistic knife, 
  4. metal knuckle knife, 
  5. dagger, 
  6. billy knife, 
  7. blackjack knife, 
  8. plastic knuckles, or 
  9. metal/brass knuckles. 

New York Penal Code § 10.00(13) defines a “dangerous instrument” as any instrument, article or substance that can be used to cause death or serious physical injury to another person. Whether or not an item is considered to be a dangerous instrument under the statute is not actually dependent upon what the object is.  Rather, this determination is based on how the defendant used the object during the commission of the crime.

An Example

Logan walked up to Simone where she was standing near the front entrance of an apartment building.  He demanded that she give him all of her money. Because Simone did not immediately comply, Logan—with his hand concealed inside his jacket pocket—said to Simone, “Run your wallet right now or I’m gonna shoot you.” Simone noticed a bulky object in Logan’s pocket that, on the basis of its shape, she believed to be a gun. Frightened, Simone opened her wallet and gave Logan her last $62. Satisfied, Logan then fled the scene. In this scenario, Logan could face prosecution for robbery in the first degree. The fact that he did not display a weapon notwithstanding, the charge is valid because he led Simone to believe that he had a gun in his pocket.

Offenses that are Related

Burglary in the first degree: New York Penal Code § 140.30

Criminal possession of stolen goods in the first degree: New York Penal Code § 165.54

Robbery in the third degree: New York Penal Code § 160.05

Robbery in the second degree: New York Penal Code § 160.10

Possible Defenses

A possible defense against a robbery in the first degree charge is that you never displayed a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. The statute carries very detailed definitions for the terms “deadly weapon” and “dangerous instrument”. If, in a possible scenario, you threatened the victim by wielding a non-serrated, dull-edged knife or some other relatively innocuous utility knife, then the prosecutor may have a tough time convincing the court that the weapon was dangerous or deadly. On the other hand, if you lead the victim to believe that you do have a deadly weapon then, even if you do not, you still could be successfully prosecuted on this charge.


Because robbery in the first degree is categorized as a class B felony, the maximum prison sentence is 25 years. That said, the judge will make a final determination on your sentence based on factors such as your prior criminal history and aggravating or mitigating aspects of the robbery. If you don’t have any prior convictions, the judge will still be required to sentence you to at least 5 years in prison.  This is because robbery in the first degree is also classified as a violent felony. Should you be classified as a non-violent predicate offender, the court will be obligated to sentence you to at least 8 years.  On the other hand, if you are classified as a violent predicate offender, you will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison.