While burglary, theft, and robbery are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, they are very distinct crimes from a legal perspective. While burglary isn’t always even a form of theft crime, robbery is a specific type of theft. The issue can be complex, so defense attorney Peter M. Liss put together this guide on distinguishing between robbery vs. burglary vs. theft.
What is Theft?
Also known as larceny, theft is the taking of someone else’s property without permission, denying them the use of their property. In the simplest of terms, theft is simply stealing someone else’s stuff. In California, theft is typically divided into two categories:
- larceny of property valued at over $950, which is filed as grand theft
- stealing items valued at under $950, which is charged as petty theft
For example, if you take a bike from someone’s porch, you committed theft.
What is Burglary?
Burglary, sometimes called breaking and entering, is a form of trespassing performed with the intention of committing a theft or felony. Although burglaries most commonly involve larceny, the crime can include any felony, including property damage or assault. A home does not need to be locked for someone entering without consent to be guilty of burglary; however, if someone enters a vehicle without permission, it is only burglary when the car was locked. The theft or felony need not be completed as long as the person who entered the property without consent did so with the intent to steal or commit a felony.
As an example, if you broke into your ex’s house to get back a piece of jewelry you gave them, it would be a burglary.
What is Robbery?
Robbery is a type of theft that involves taking someone’s property through the use of force or fear. When a weapon is used to intimidate or harm the victim, it becomes armed robbery. Even if the thief didn’t originally intend to use violence or the threat of violence, if they do so in an attempt to escape, the crime can still be charged with robbery.
An example of robbery would be someone roughly pushing a woman to the ground while grabbing her purse.
What is The Difference Between Theft, Burglary and Robbery?
To put it simply, theft is the taking of property that doesn’t belong to you, while burglary involves breaking into a property intending to commit a theft or felony, and robbery is a theft utilizing fear or force. Not all burglaries are theft crimes, but they often are. On the other hand, while all robberies are thefts, not all thefts are robberies.
While each of these crimes is distinct, technically, someone could violate all three laws in one act. An obvious example would be someone who breaks into a home to steal electronics and threatens the residents inside.
Alternatively, if someone who has broken into a car and steals the stereo pushes another person who tries to stop them as they run away, they are guilty of theft, burglary, and robbery.
The Sentences for Theft Vs. Robbery Vs. Burglary
Another big difference between these offenses is the sentence those convicted of the crimes face. Petty theft is always a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than six months in jail. Both grand theft and burglaries are known as “wobbler,” meaning they can be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, or a felony with a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Residential burglaries are considered more dangerous, so they count as a strike and are punishable by up to six years in prison. If someone is present at the home, it can even be considered a “hot prowl” and be charged as a violent felony. In many cases, felony charges can be negotiated down to misdemeanor offenses with the help of a skilled attorney.
A significant difference between burglary and robbery is that robbery always counts as a strike and is always charged as a felony, with a maximum sentence of six years for basic offenses. If the robbery took place in a structure inhabited by more than two people, the maximum sentence goes up to nine more years in prison.
If someone was seriously injured during the robbery, the defendant could face an additional six years in prison. If a gun was used, the defendant could face an extra ten, twenty, or even a lifetime term in prison under California’s 10-20-Life law. Defendants face charges for each victim who was present to be threatened, so if you used a gun to rob a woman’s purse while she was on a date, you would face two charges even if you only took an item from one victim.
Fighting the Charges
There are many strong defenses to these charges, including wrongful accusations, illegal police search and seizure, and more. In burglary cases where trespassing is the only crime that occurred before the suspect was arrested, it is often difficult for the prosecution to prove that the intruder intended to commit a felony or theft. If a theft involved a vehicle and the door was left unlocked, the charge must be grand or petty theft, as it cannot be considered burglary.
Because both robbery and burglary are such serious charges and the laws defining them can be so complex, anyone facing these accusations must not attempt to defend themselves without a lawyer present. If you have been charged with theft, robbery, or burglary, please call The Law Offices of Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule your free initial consultation.