In May 2017, Savonte Maurice Townsend shoved liquor bottles into her purse and ran out of a St. Louis Park store but was overpowered by a store employee who reclaimed them.
Townsend, who is serving a prison sentence of more than four years, asked the state Supreme Court to overturn her simple robbery conviction in Hennepin County District Court because she wasn’t successful in overcoming the clerk and stealing the booze.
In a ruling released Wednesday, the state Supreme Court didn’t buy her argument. The court unanimously upheld her conviction but was split in its reasoning.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Anne McKeig, said Townsend’s attempted use of force was enough to qualify as a simple robbery conviction. The court noted that the use of force is the “characteristic element” that distinguishes robbery from theft, a lesser crime.
Townsend had argued that she didn’t use force successfully — because she didn’t get away with the bottles — so she couldn’t be convicted of robbery.
In the incident, Townsend and an unidentified friend put liquor bottles in their purses and tried to leave the store. The friend got away, but the clerk grabbed Townsend and pushed her up against a wall in the entryway, the ruling said.
After the two scuffled, the clerk recovered the liquor bottles, but sprained his ankle in the process, destroyed a sleeve on his uniform and had his chain necklace ripped off and broken.
The court said there was sufficient evidence that Townsend did use force to steal the bottles.
In the concurring decision, the three justices disagreed, saying the law requires proof that a defendant’s use of force successfully overpowered the victim. They agreed, however, that Townsend did overcome resistance because she was able to “meaningfully move the property a distance after” the employee resisted.
“Had Townsend taken the bottles without using force and then left the bottles when confronted by the employee’s demand that she do so, Townsend’s conduct would not be robbery,” Justice Paul Thissen wrote.
Joining McKeig in the majority were Justices Margaret Chutich, David Lillehaug and Natalie Hudson.
Joining Thissen in concurrence were Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Justice G. Barry Anderson.