Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Kansas v. Bateson, 970 P.2d 1000 (Kan. 1998).
This case addresses the following issue:
What is the difference between robbery and theft?
This case explored the difference between robbery and theft. In exploring the difference, the court held that robbery involved an offender taking property from another by force or by threat of bodily harm and theft did not involve any type of force or threat. Id. at 1001.
In this case, the victim was alone in her work office. Id. After leaving briefly to get some information from an adjoining office, she returned to observe the defendant bent over behind her desk. Id. She then asked what he was doing and he replied, “looking for somebody.” Id. The victim then saw that her lower desk drawer where she kept her purse was partially opened. Id. Upon looking inside her purse, the victim noticed that $95 in cash was missing as well as her address book. Id. Once the victim saw the missing money, she demanded the defendant give it back. Id. The defendant then turned, left the office, and walked rapidly to the stairs (never threatening or applying force to the victim). Id. After the defendant fled, the victim followed him, some 6 to 8 feet behind. Id. In order to get out of the building, the defendant had to go through several doors. Id. While the victim was following the defendant, one of the doors slammed in her face. Id. Eventually, the defendant was apprehended and found guilty by a jury of robbery. Id. As a result, the defendant appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Kansas. Id.
On appeal the defendant argued that the court should have convicted him of theft instead of robbery. Id. According to the defendant, he did not take the property by force or threat. Id. Contrary to the defendant’s opinion, the State (plaintiff) argued that the defendant used force (slamming the door) to effect the removal of the property from the victim’s presence and the office building. Id.
In responding to the defendant’s argument, the court first examined the Kansas statutes on robbery and theft. Id. The robbery statute stated, “Robbery is the taking of property from the person or presence of another by force or by threat of bodily harm to any person.” Id. Additionally, the theft statute stated, “Theft is any of the following acts done with intent to deprive the owner permanently of the possession, use or benefit of the owner’s property: (1) Obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over property.” Id. After examining the two statutes, the court determined that the defendant’s use of force did not come before nor was it at the same time with the taking of the cash and address book. Id. at 1005. Furthermore, the court noted that the defendant had control of the property when he left the victim’s office. Id. Also, the court found that the defendant was out of the victim’s sight at the time of the door slamming incident and the taking was complete before the force occurred. Id. Therefore, the court held that the evidence supported a theft conviction and not a robbery conviction. Id.