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Credible Threat Supports First-Degree Conviction

September 30, 2014 | Posted In Criminal Law, Recent News

The believable threat of a bomb can legally sustain a charge of first-degree robbery, according to the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling last month. In two companion cases, the court found that the robbery victims must be convinced that the threat of a bomb is real in order to warrant the more severe charges of a first-degree robbery. The credible threat takes precedence in determining the severity, even if the robber is not actually armed, New Jersey criminal defense lawyers report. 

In State v. Williams and State v. Dekowski, the court’s ruling overturned two decisions from the Appellate Division, in which the first-degree robbery convictions had been originally thrown out. 

In 2007, Christopher Dekowski threatened a teller at a Commerce Bank branch in Roselle, saying that he had a concealed bomb on his person. The teller handed over $500. Dekowski was later apprehended by police, who charged him with first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 13 years behind bars, and appealed his conviction in State v. Dekowski.

The next year, Kelvin Williams robbed the Somerdale branch of Sun National Bank using the same tactics. He demanded $7 million, and the teller gave him $552. Police arrested Williams at a nearby shopping mall. He was convicted of first-degree robbery and given a 14-year prison sentence, which he later appealed as well, in State v. Williams.

In both cases, two separate Appellate Division panels ruled that the prosecutors had not proven that these robberies warranted first-degree convictions or sentencing. The judges wrote that there must be evidence in the robber’s conduct to support his claim that he is armed with a bomb, and in neither case did they find Williams and Dekowski to exhibit such behavior. But according to the state Supreme Court, precedents set in a similar case in 1987 allow a person to be convicted based on the victim’s “reasonable sensory impression that the object is capable of causing serious bodily harm or death.”

Justice Barry Albin of the Supreme Court wrote further that a “terrorized victim cannot be expected to demand proof from the robber that he is armed with a deadly weapon, such as a bomb.” In this case, the suggestion of the bomb can sustain the first-degree severity. In New Jersey, a crime of the first degree is designated under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-1, and is the highest level of criminal activity. Typically, first degree crimes carry a mandatory 10 to 20 year prison-sentence, with the presumption of incarceration. 

Because both Williams and Dekowski used the threat of a deadly weapon in their attempts to hold up the branches, their convictions reflect the same severity that would have been applied had they flashed guns or used knives to threaten the tellers, New Jersey criminal defense lawyers say. The “totality” of the event—the threat of the bomb, combined with the actions, dress, and mannerisms of the robber—are all taken into account in a first-degree crime. 

A first-degree conviction can result in high monetary fines and an extended jail sentence, at a devastating cost to an offender. At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey criminal defense law firm, our attorneys represent people who have been charged with criminal activity. Contact an HCK attorney today to discuss your case and your options. 

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