What’s the Difference Between Theft, Robbery and Burglary?

California Burglary Law

Under California law, theft, burglary and robbery are different crimes. They may sound the same to the uninitiated. But, a criminal defense lawyer can tell you and each of these crimes has its own provision in the California Penal Code. That means each of these crimes has a unique definition with a set of possible penalties for violations. It is important to understand that they are all crimes with the potential for serious penalties, but the degree of seriousness and the penalties may differ depending on the nature of the incident, the circumstances and the defendant’s own prior criminal record.

How They Are Different

Theft is different from robbery in that it is the taking of property, which does not involve any interaction between the victim and their person who takes the property. Often, the person just takes the property, which does not belong to him or her. Theft could be categorized as “petty theft” or “grand theft” the latter being the more serious crime.

Burglary refers to the entering of a building or property with the intent of committing a theft or a crime that would be deemed a felony. A person can be convicted of burglary even if no property is stolen or even if there was no interaction between the victim and the alleged burglar. They key element in the crime of burglary is “intent” to commit the crime.

Robbery refers to the taking of property and involves interaction between the victim and the person committing the robbery. It is typical in robbery cases for force or intimidation to be used, often involving a weapon or firearm. For example, when a person enters a convenience store and asks the clerk to hand over the cash in the register and uses a gun to threaten the clerk, that is considered robbery. A robbery charge is imminent even if no one was hurt during the incident.

How the Crimes Are Classified

Petty theft is the least of all these crimes and involves taking property $400 or below in value. Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction. Grand theft involves items that are more than $400 in value. Petty theft is often charged as a misdemeanor. Grand theft could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal record. Burglaries could also be charged either as misdemeanors or felonies, again, depending on the nature and circumstances of the incident and the defendant’s prior criminal record.

A robbery that is committed in an occupied home, against those riding public transportation or taxicabs or against those using cash withdrawal machines, is considered first-degree under California law. All other robbery incidents are typically considered second degree. Robberies will likely be classified as felonies are will become a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Why You Need a Lawyer

Any of these charges could result in serious consequences including jail or prison time, hefty fines, probation, etc. If you are accused or using a weapon or are determined to be a gang member you could face additional charges or “enhancements,” which could potentially increase your penalties. Whether you have been charged with theft, burglary or robbery, the best course of action you can take is to contact an experienced California criminal defense lawyer who will fight the charges and help you achieve the best possible outcome.

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