Is a Driver Who Has No Knowledge of a Robbery Liable ?
In People v. Cooper (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1158, the California Supreme Court held "a getaway driver who has no prior knowledge of a robbery, but who forms the intent to aid in carrying away the loot during such asportation, may properly be found liable as an aider and abettor of the robbery."
In Cooper, the defendant drove a car carrying two individuals (referred to in the opinion as the codefendants), into a shopping center parking lot. (Ibid.) The defendant parked the car; he and the codefendants got out of the car and conversed for several minutes. (Ibid.)
The defendant walked over to a wall bordering a school, peered over the top of the wall, and returned to the car. (Ibid.)
Several minutes later, the codefendants "ran across the parking lot and, without stopping, slammed into an 89-year-old shopper, stealing his wallet. Leaving the victim lying on the ground, the codefendants fled with the loot to defendant's car, which was moving with its two right-side doors open. After his codefendants jumped inside, defendant hurriedly drove away." (Ibid.)
The defendant and the codefendants were charged with robbery; the defendant was charged on the basis he had aided and abetted the robbery by driving the getaway car. (Cooper, supra, 53 Cal.3d at p. 1161.) The defendant was convicted as charged. (Id. at p. 1163.)
The defendant argued the evidence did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that he possessed prior knowledge of, or intent to aid, the robbery. (Id. at p. 1162.) He argued, at most, the evidence supported he was an accessory after the fact. (Ibid.)
The California Supreme Court affirmed the defendant's robbery conviction. (Cooper, supra, 53 Cal.3d at p. 1171.)
The Supreme Court reasoned, "we have held that once all elements of a robbery are satisfied, the offense has been initially committed and the principal may be found guilty of robbery, as distinct from a mere attempt. This threshold of guilt-establishment is a fixed point in time, but is not synonymous with 'commission' of a crime for our purposes. For purposes of determining aider and abettor liability, the commission of a robbery continues until all acts constituting the offense have ceased. Fn. omitted. The taking element of robbery itself has two necessary elements, gaining possession of the victim's property and asporting or carrying away the loot. Thus, in determining the duration of a robbery's commission we must necessarily focus on the duration of the final element of the robbery, asportation." (Id. at pp. 1164-1165.)
The Supreme Court further stated, "although, for purposes of establishing guilt, the asportation requirement is initially satisfied by evidence of slight movement , asportation is not confined to a fixed point in time. Fn. omitted. The asportation continues thereafter as long as the loot is being carried away to a place of temporary safety. Therefore, in order to fulfill the requirements of People v. Beeman, supra, 35 Cal.3d 547, for conviction of the more serious offense of aiding and abetting a robbery, a getaway driver must form the intent to facilitate or encourage commission of the robbery prior to or during the carrying away of the loot to a place of temporary safety. In determining the duration of the asportation, we reject the argument that commission of the robbery necessarily ends once the loot is removed from the 'immediate presence' of the victim. Although the 'immediate presence' language comes directly from Penal Code section 211, this language does not pertain to the duration of robbery. Section 211 defines robbery as 'the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence . . . .' Taking from the 'person' and from the 'immediate presence' are alternatives. These terms are spatially, rather than temporally, descriptive. They refer to the area from which the property is taken, not how far it is taken. Put another way, these limitations on the scope of the robbery statute relate to the 'gaining possession' component of the taking as distinct from the 'carrying away' component." (Cooper, supra, 53 Cal.3d at pp. 1165-1166.)