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Bank robbers beware: Take a hostage and get 10 more years in prison

In 2008, a North Carolina man attempted to rob a bank and fled to an elderly woman’s home. According to court reports, the man forced the woman to move inside the home from one room to another while he tried to get in touch with a getaway driver. The woman suffered a fatal heart attack and died shortly afterward. The man was indicted on a charge of forcing someone to accompany him and subsequently killing that person. As a criminal defense attorney Minneapolis might, do the defendant argued that he did not intentionally cause the woman’s death.

A district court jury vacated the charge of killing the woman but upheld that the defendant forced her to be his hostage. The case found its way to the Supreme Court, where the justices unanimously ruled that 10 years should be added to defendants’ prison sentences if they take a hostage.

Does distance matter?

The defendant in this case allegedly only moved with the woman a distance of 9 feet from the living room to another area of the home. Under a 1934 federal law, there is a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence applied when someone forces a person to accompany him or her during a bank robbery or while fleeing from a crime. In his arguments, the defendant stated that the federal statute should not apply to him because he did not force the woman to accompany him anywhere outside her home.

However, in his written opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the prison sentence rule applies because the word “accompany” should be treated as its ordinary meaning and would apply in situations such as moving with a person to the vault in a bank, going up a stairway or walking across a room. Justice Scalia did note that a truly minor movement would not count, only those that could be described as going from one place to another.

Robbery penalties

A bank robbery is a federal offense as long as the institution is organized and operating under U.S. laws. As any criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis knows, such an act is considered a felony. The punishments for such a crime depend on a variety of factors, such as the following:

  • Whether or not a weapon was used
  • If anyone’s life was in jeopardy or if anyone was killed
  • The value of the money or property taken

If someone steals less than $100, the penalty includes a fine and a prison sentence of up to a year. Taking more than $100 could result in a fine and a sentence of up to 10 years. If any aggravating factors are present, such as taking a hostage, the sentence may be enhanced.

People who have questions regarding bank robbery crimes should consult with a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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