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Rhode Island subscribes to the common-law definition of robbery. It is defined as the felonious and forcible taking from the person of another of goods or money to any value by violence or putting him in fear. Larceny at common law is essentially a wrongful taking without right and a carrying away of another's personal property with a felonious intent to steal. By definition, robbery includes larceny because the robbery act requires a taking and a carrying away of another's property. When a defendant takes possession of another's property, there is a taking; when a defendant exercises dominion and control over the property, there is possession. Finally when a defendant carries away the property, there is an asportation. There cannot be an asportation unless there has first been a taking.
Melkon Varadian (Varadian) and his wife owned and operated the Public Street Market, a neighborhood grocery store in Providence. The defendant, Julio Holley (Holley), and Zachary Spratt (Spratt), pretended to be customers of the store, and then beat Varadian. Spratt attempted to open the cash register and succeeded only in breaking the top of the machine and its keys. No cash was taken. Varadian broke free of Holley and scrambled for a telephone to notify the police. Despite their efforts Spratt and Holley fled with no money, nor did they take away any of the food ordered, save the two tins of tuna which Spratt put in his pocket earlier. Holley was later identified by Varadian and was found guilty of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. Subsequently the trial justice imposed a sentence of forty-five years. Holley appealed. He argued that he was wrongfully sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for his cohort's taking of two cans of tuna fish. Specifically, he contended that the tuna fish, having been put in Spratt’s pocket prior to the use of force, makes his robbery conviction unsupportable.
Was Holley’s robbery conviction proper?
The court determined that the state had not proven common law robbery. Accordingly, the court vacated the robbery conviction and convicted Holley of the lesser-included offense of assault with intent to rob. Holley also argued that the trial court erred in failing to suppress in and out of court identifications. The court found that the identifications were not unnecessarily suggestive so as to deprive Holley of his due process rights. Holley made out a prima facie case of discrimination by the state in exercising its preemptory challenges, but the court determined that the state's non-discriminatory basis for the challenge was sufficient.