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MADISON - In a decision issued earlier today, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals held that a bank robber who made threatening statements implying he had a weapon, and who put his hand into his pocket, was guilty of armed robbery because the bank teller reasonably believed the person was armed with a dangerous weapon. The decision in State v. Rittman, Case No. 2009AP708-CR, affirms the conviction of Roy Lee Rittman for the armed robbery of a bank despite no evidence being found that he was actually armed.
"Today's decision is a common sense interpretation of the armed robbery law and took into consideration the very real impact a threat of violence can impose," said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "Roy Lee Rittman threatened violence to stick up a bank; now he's stuck behind bars for a long time."
Rittman was charged with three counts of robbing banks in the Milwaukee area in 2006. He was convicted of all three at a trial by a judge sitting without a jury. Rittman did not appeal the other conviction for armed robbery, or the conviction for unarmed robbery by use or threat of use of force. He only appealed the conviction for armed robbery of a branch of the Great Midwest Bank.
Rittman claimed to the court of appeals that he could not be convicted of armed robbery because he was not armed, did not produce any object the bank teller could have thought was a weapon, and did not claim to be armed. The court of appeals rejected this argument, and held that the issue is if the victim reasonably believed that Rittman was armed in light of his words and actions. During this robbery Rittman threatened harm if he was not given the money he demanded, and then put his hand into his pants pocket. After being given the money Rittman told the teller to "get down" and that someone "would get hurt" if anyone tried to stop him. The court of appeals held that from this the teller could reasonably believe that Rittman had a gun or some other weapon. Rittman was therefore guilty of armed robbery.
Today's decision of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals may be found at the court's website:
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office litigated the case in the circuit court. The Wisconsin Attorney General represents the State in all felony appeals in both the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Assistant Attorney General Michael Losse represented the State in the Court of Appeals.