According to a decision last week out of Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, an armed robbery isn't really an armed robbery if the "weapon" used in the crime can't kill or seriously injure the victims.
The court ruled in its decision to reverse a conviction of armed robbery for a crime committed by Stafford Hamilton that included the use of a toy gun, which will now be remanded to the lower court to enter a judgment for the lesser offense of robbery.
The reasoning -- toy guns are scary if you don't know it's a toy, but no one's going to end up dead if it isn't real.
"In this case, the state did not introduce any evidence to show that the toy gun could be used to cause death or inflict serious bodily harm," the decision says. "While we appreciate that the victim did not know the gun was a toy and understandably was in fear, 'Florida courts apply an objective test and look to the nature and actual use of the instrument and not to the subjective fear of the victim or intent of the perpetrator.'"
The court's decision says the state's conviction relied on a case in which a man actually struck the victim several times with a toy gun, which was enough for an armed robbery conviction.
The court cited another court's opinion that this type of case was "equal to a denial of due process."
This decision also cited Florida's standard jury instructions, which define "weapon" as being "any object that could be used to cause death or inflict serious bodily harm."
Federal law doesn't quite agree -- the Justice Department's U.S. Attorneys' Manual says you'll probably get a conviction if someone flashed a toy gun during a robbery.
In Florida, though, this man's conviction of a first-degree felony for armed robbery will now likely be downgraded to a second-degree felony conviction for robbery, which lowers the maximum sentence from 30 years in prison to 15 years.
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Click here to read the court's decision.