Understanding Robbery vs. Burglary vs. Theft

burglar breaking open a door with a crowbar

The terms robbery, burglary and theft are often used interchangeably. These terms do have something in common, they are all types of crimes. However, they are distinct criminal offenses with different legal consequences upon conviction. If you plan to pursue a career as a police officer, paralegal, attorney or criminal justice policy expert, you will need to know the differences between these terms.

Understanding Theft

Theft is the unlawful taking of property that does not belong to the individual. It is an intentional act that occurs without the lawful owner’s consent and it is done for the purpose of permanently depriving the lawful owner of that property. To be convicted of theft, it is not necessary for an individual to have unlawfully entered any structure, used force or threatened to use force.

Theft laws recognize petty theft of property of lesser value and grand theft, which is the taking of property valued at an amount that exceeds an established threshold. Usually, petty theft is a misdemeanor that may lead to light punishments, whereas grand theft is more serious.

Exploring Robbery Charges

Unlike theft, robbery does involve the use of force or the threat to use force. For example, a person may commit robbery by pointing a gun at the victim. Alternatively, the individual may threaten to pull out a firearm if the victim does not relinquish the property. Note that it is not necessary for a defendant to possess a firearm at the time of the crime. A defendant may be convicted of robbery even if he or she did not have a weapon.

Recognizing Burglary Laws

Burglary is a property crime, yet it does not always involve theft. Burglary involves the unlawful entering of a structure such as a home or business with the intent to commit another crime while inside. The other crime may involve theft, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. For instance, a person could be convicted of burglary for unlawfully entering a building with the intent to kidnap an occupant.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.