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Name: People v. Williams
Case #: S195187
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/26/2013

Theft by false pretenses does not satisfy the “felonious taking” element of robbery. Williams used re-encoded credit cards to buy gift cards at Walmart. When loss prevention officers asked him why the credit card numbers on the cards not match the numbers on the store receipts, he tried to leave the store and a struggle ensued. Williams was convicted of robbery and theft. He challenged the robbery convictions, asserting that robbery cannot be committed where the theft is by false pretenses. The Court of Appeal affirmed the robbery convictions. The Supreme Court granted review and reversed. The robbery statute uses the phrase “felonious taking,” which at common law was synonymous with larceny. Larceny differs from theft by false pretenses in requiring asportation. This element of larceny continues until the thief reaches a place of temporary safety. Thus, a defendant who uses force or fear in an effort to escape with the property during the continuing offense, commits a robbery. Theft by false pretenses, on the other hand, “ends at the moment title to the property is acquired, and thus cannot become robbery by the defendant’s later use of force or fear.” When Williams shoved the guards, he had acquired title to the gift cards, so the offense was not continuing. He therefore did not commit robbery. Further, robbery requires a trespassory taking, i.e., a taking without the property owner’s consent. Theft by false pretenses involves the property owner’s consensual transfer of possession and title to property. Because Walmart consented to the sale of the gift cards, Williams did not commit a trespassory taking and thus, did not commit robbery.