In an opinion filed today, the Supreme Court of Tennessee clarified when a serious bodily injury must occur during a robbery to elevate the crime to especially aggravated robbery. This clarification is important because especially aggravated robbery carries a longer sentence than aggravated robbery with a separate charge for assault.
In the case before the Court, the defendant robbed two victims at gunpoint, demanding the male victim’s cell phone, keys, and wallet. After the victim complied, there was discussion between the defendant and his co-defendant on what to do next. The pair debated placing the victim in the trunk of his car. After an unspecified amount of time passed, the victim decided he would no longer cooperate, fearing what would happen if he were placed in the trunk. The victim grabbed the gun, a struggle ensued, and the victim was shot four times.
A jury convicted the defendant of especially aggravated robbery, as well as additional charges. On appeal, the defendant argued the injury must occur during the robbery, which, he argued, was completed before a separate struggle for the weapon occurred. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions, and the defendant appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
In its analysis, the Supreme Court determined a serious bodily injury suffered by a victim of a robbery must be sustained during the robbery in order for the enhanced charge and punishment to apply. In deciding when a robbery is over, the Court concluded a theft is completed when a defendant has taken all of the property he intended to steal.
In this case, the defendant demanded the victim’s keys, but had not taken the car. Thus, the theft was not yet completed when the struggle over the gun occurred.
Based on these facts, the Court concluded there was sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude the defendant also intended to steal the car. As a result, the robbery was not complete at the time the victim suffered the serious bodily injury. Therefore, the Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for especially aggravated robbery.