Estes Robbery – a theft coupled with the use of force or fear

In California, a theft coupled with the use of force or fear to escape with the property is commonly known as an “Estes” robbery. The type of crime gets its name from the 1983 case of Curtis Dale Estes versus Sears, Roebuck & Company. It is a special case of robbery that occurs when a shoplifter or thief tries to take merchandise from a store of any type and is approached by store security or loss prevention officer. If the thief feels threatened or assaulted, a verbal or physical struggle could ensue. If the shoplifter simply pushes past the security guard or in any way uses force to get away, a minor petty theft offense turns into a very serious robbery offense. Essentially it is a simple petty theft (shoplifting) from a store that turns into a robbery.

Prosecutors routinely file this type of case as a robbery case instead of a petty theft case even if nobody is injured and only threats were made. Determination of guilt in these situations will be based on who said what and who or what started the physical struggle between the thief and the store employee.

The Case That Defined Estes Robbery

The case of Curtis Dale Estes defines this special circumstances theft. Estes was convicted of robbery for the taking of personal property owned by Sears, Roebuck & Company in the immediate presence of a security guard, using force and fear to complete the taking.

Estes entered the Sears store in Vallejo, wearing only jeans and a T-shirt and was observed by Carl Tatem, a security guard employed by Sears. Tatem next saw defendant wearing a corduroy coat of the type sold by Sears, and watched him remove a down-filled vest from a rack, take off the coat, put on the vest, then the coat. Estes then left the store without paying for the items.

As the security guard attempted to detain Estes, the defendant pulled out a knife, swung it at the guard, and threatened to kill him. The guard, who was unarmed, returned to the store for help.

Shortly thereafter, the guard returned to the parking lot with the Sears security manager. Tatem and the manager confronted Estes and again asked him to accompany them back to the store. The defendant still clutched the knife in his hand. After some time, Estes returned to the store with Tatem and the manager, but denied using the knife and denied stealing the coat and vest. At the trial, defendant admitted stealing the coat and vest from the store, but again denied using force or fear against the security guard, or any other person.

Daniel R. Perlman
The Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman