Property CrimesTypes of Felonies

Burglary vs Robbery vs Theft: What’s the Difference Legally?

Many people confuse the terms burglary, robbery, and theft and use them interchangeably. This confusion may be due to a few similarities between them. However, in the eyes of the law, each term is different. Their legal definition and differences mean everything in the penalties and consequences for a convicted person.

What Is Theft?

A theft occurs when someone takes possession of another person’s property without their consent. It’s usually with an intent to deprive the owner of the use of such property. The victim doesn’t have to be physically present for a theft to occur. Theft is the most basic of the three crimes, and it’s also known as larceny. In 2018, theft was the second most common crime in the US. The definition of theft involves some of these scenarios:

  • To take a person’s tangible property, such as money or physical property that you can move: This scenario usually occurs without the owner’s knowledge. Examples include shoplifting and picking money from someone’s purse while they’re away.
  • To borrow an item from someone with the intent not to return the item: In this case, the owner may hand over the item to you, with an understanding or agreement to return such property. Breaking the agreement by intentionally keeping the item is theft.
  • Theft of services: An example is a dine and dash, where someone eats in a restaurant and leaves without paying.

What Is Robbery?

Robbery is taking something directly from someone using force, threats, or violence. While robbery and theft are similar, as they involve stealing, a theft can occur without physically interacting with the victim. Robbery, however, is a theft that involves face-to-face interaction with the victim, leading to the use of threat and intimidation. It’s usually violent. For a crime to be a robbery, the following must occur:

  • The presence of the victim: The victim must be present, and it involves person-to-person confrontation. If someone breaks into a home and commits a crime, without the home’s occupants around, it’s not robbery.
  • Forcibly taking something within a person’s control, even if they don’t physically possess it: For instance, stealing money in a convenience store by forcing the store’s employee to open the safe is robbery. It’s also similar to coercing a bank’s employee to open the bank’s vault and taking whatever item is in there. The employee doesn’t need to hand over the item by hand, and the owners of such items don’t need to be present themselves before such offense is deemed a robbery

What Is Burglary?

A burglary occurs when someone enters a structure with the intent to commit a crime once inside. It’s burglary regardless of whether the person eventually committed the crime or not. Merely entering a structure without authorization, either forcefully or through an unlocked door, while intending to commit a crime can attract the charge of burglary.

A structure can be a home, an office, a garage, or even a tent. Also, some states differentiate between a residential building and commercial building burglary. The following generally pertains to the crime of burglary:

  • It doesn’t necessarily require a theft to occur, and it doesn’t matter if a weapon is present or not.
  • The crime takes place without the victim present.
  • Simply putting your hands through an open window of a home to steal without even going into the house is burglary.
  • Opening a screen door in a home while intending to commit a crime without eventually going in or committing the crime is burglary.
Man attempting burglary

Some Important Differences to Note

  1. Theft and burglary don’t require a face-to-face altercation, but a robbery charge indicates that the criminal had contact with the victim.
  2. For a robbery to occur, there must be violence, threat, or intent to threaten. However, a burglary may not require any form of violence. In a burglarized home, there may be no broken windows or doors. A seemingly “clean” breaking in and entry is enough reason for a burglary charge. Theft doesn’t involve violence.
  3. A break-in can either be a robbery or burglary, and it mostly involves the theft of property. If the break-in is a robbery that caused the death of someone, it will lead to a murder charge.
  4. If a criminal breaks into a home or office and forcefully steals from an occupant inside, it’s a robbery.
  5. A robbery cannot take place in a home while the occupants are away on vacation. If a criminal goes into an empty residence to commit theft, it’s a burglary.
  6. Shoplifting is theft. Asking a cashier to open a cash register and collecting the money is robbery. Unlawfully gaining access to the store outside work hours while all employees are absent is burglary.

Classification and Penalties for Theft

The penalty for theft hinges on the type of theft committed. Each classification of theft depends on the value of the property stolen. It’s important to note that the definition of these types of theft varies from state to state.

Petty Theft

Petty theft includes scenarios where the total value of the item stolen is less than $500 or $1,000, depending on the state. Petty theft will generally attract misdemeanor charges, especially for first-time and juvenile offenders. It draws light penalties, such as community service or a probationary period.

Petty theft can also lead to civil suits where the criminal must make restitution or repay the victim. Any jail term for petty theft is usually less than a year since petty theft is a misdemeanor. Criminals who have had several charges of petty theft may attract this jail term. In some states, repeated history of petty theft can even attract felony charges.

Grand Theft

For grand theft to occur, the value of the stolen item must be above $500-$1,000. Some states have a threshold of $25,000 for a crime to be considered grand theft.

Generally, grand theft is a felony, even for new offenders. Felonies attract more enormous penalties, such as a jail term of more than one year.

How Charges and Penalties Differ in Some States


If the value of the stolen property in Florida is less than $100, the offender has committed a misdemeanor of the second degree. If the property is between $100-$300, it’s punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor. Any theft at $300 and above is a felony. The offender may serve a term in prison and lose their right to vote.


A $300 felony in Florida is a misdemeanor in Georgia. Offenders may pay a fine of not more than $1,000 or serve a prison sentence of not more than 12 months. Stealing property above $500 may attract a felony charge.


A misdemeanor of class A in Wisconsin means the value of the stolen property didn’t exceed $2,500. The penalty may include a fine of not more than $10,000 or a jail term of not more than nine months. Depending on other factors, an offender can receive both a fine and a jail term.


Petty, or petit, theft in Idaho applies to thefts of properties valued at $1,000 or less. The punishment includes a fine, not more than $1,000, or a sentence not more than one year in the county jail, or both.

However, petty thefts that include properties such as firearms, credit/debit cards, checks, and livestock are more severe crimes. As such, they fall within the statue of grand theft, attracting more penalties.


A class C misdemeanor in Texas is the theft of a property with a value of less than $50. This crime attracts a fine of not more than $500 and does not involve any jail term.

Hand holding Gun

Charges and Penalties for Robbery

Robbery is a serious felony due to its violent nature. If an offender is found guilty of a robbery charge, the judge will consider the aggravating and mitigating factors to issue the right penalty.

Aggravating Factors

An aggravating factor is a circumstance surrounding the crime that increases the severity of the crime. These factors can add to the punishment of an offender, and they include:

The Use of a Weapon

If a criminal robs someone at gunpoint or knifepoint, the case is more severe than if he verbally threatened the victim with physical assault.

Result of the Crime

In some states, if the robbery resulted in an injury, it aggravates the final sentence the offender will get. If it results in death, the crime escalates to a murder charge.

Value of the Stolen Property

Just like theft, many states increase the penalty for robbery if the value of the property stolen exceeds a certain amount.

History of a Criminal Record

A repeat offense of robbery will attract a harsher sentence than a first-time offense.

Crime Against a Vulnerable Person

Some state laws consider robbing an elderly person, a child, or a disabled person as an aggravating factor.

The Aid of an Accomplice

If the defendant had an accomplice, such as a lookout or a getaway driver, some states consider it an aggravating factor.

Mitigating Factors

A mitigating factor reduces the severity of the crime and will lessen the penalty an offender receives. Mitigating factors may include:

First-Time Offender

If the defendant has no previous record of robbery, the judge might consider a lesser penalty. His sentence may not be the same as a regular offender who committed the same crime.

Showing Remorse

If the defendant shows remorse to the judge or victim or admits his guilt, his punishment will decrease. Returning the stolen property is also considered a sign of repentance.

Committing a Crime in a Diminished Capacity

The defendant may assert a diminished capacity during the defense. In such a case, he may claim that he suffered from mental defects when he committed the crime. If the defense proves that his mental incapacities erase any intent to steal, the conviction may reduce from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Committing a Crime Under Duress

If a defendant claims he was under duress to commit a robbery, he must prove that he had to commit the crime while in danger of bodily harm. It’ll mean he was in danger from another person, and committing the crime was the only way to prevent that person from harming him.

Juvenile Defendant

Many states try cases where the defendant is underage in juvenile courts. A juvenile robbery case will attract less penalty than what is obtainable in a court for adults. With these factors, robbery can be first or second degree, depending on the state. A state like New York has a third-degree classification, which involves a robbery with no aggravating factors. The penalty for a first-degree robbery is more severe than a second degree, which is more severe than a third-degree robbery.


Penalties In Different States


The use of a deadly weapon constitutes a first-degree felony, and it attracts life imprisonment. Robbery without a deadly weapon attracts a sentence up to fifteen years.

New York

A first-degree robbery in New York implies severe bodily injury to the victim and that the defendant was armed with a deadly weapon. It’s a class B felony, attracting up to 25 years in jail.

A second-degree robbery means the defendant caused minor injuries and had an accessory. It attracts up to a 15-year jail term. With a third-degree robbery, the defendant will get between two to seven years in jail.


Robbery generally is a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania, and it attracts up to a seven-year jail term. Bodily injury to the victim constitutes a second-degree felony with up to ten years in jail. A first-degree felony involves severe bodily injury and carries a sentence up to twenty years.


A first-degree robbery in California is punishable by three to six years in jail. An aggravating factor like a conspiracy or home robbery can extend the jail term to nine years. A second-degree robbery is punishable by a jail term of between two to five years.


Texas law uses the terms robbery and aggravated robbery to classify the degree of severity. Robbery is a second-degree felony with a penalty of two to 20 years in prison or a fine of not more than $10,000.

An aggravated robbery is a first-degree felony, and it involves the use of arms. It’s otherwise known as armed robbery. It attracts a penalty of a five to 99 years jail term or a fine of not more than $10,000.

Charges and Penalties for Burglary

Burglary may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on its severity. The degree of severity varies by state, and there are four main degrees:

First Degree Burglary

First-degree burglary is the most serious case of burglary, and it’s a felony. It involves unlawful entry into a building with the intent to commit a crime and with the use of a deadly weapon. In some states, only residential building invasions receive the first-degree burglary classification.

Second Degree Burglary

This type of burglary is the same as a first-degree burglary but without the use of weapons. In some states, it implies a commercial building burglary. It’s also a second-degree burglary if a criminal enters a building with the intent to steal a firearm or commit arson.

Third Degree Burglary

A third-degree burglary involves unlawful entry into any structure with the intent to commit a crime that is not theft, arson, or violence. An example is in a domestic case where an ex-spouse breaks into a home. Third-degree burglary in some states may also mean intent to steal but getting caught before committing the crime.

Fourth Degree Burglary

It’s the only burglary that is a misdemeanor, and not all states have a fourth-degree burglary classification. It’s breaking and entry without the intent to commit a crime or getting caught before committing the crime. It could also mean breaking and entry into connected areas of a building, such as a yard.

Just like robbery, burglary laws require a judge to consider some factors before giving a sentence. These factors include:

  • Value of the property
  • Level of damage done
  • Previous crime history

Penalties for burglary can involve jail terms, fines, restitution, and probation, depending on whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor.

Some Penalties by State

South Carolina

In South Carolina, the first-degree burglary is punishable with life imprisonment. A second-degree burglary can attract up to a 15-year prison term.


In Hawaii, the first-degree burglary is a class B felony, punishable by up to ten years in jail and a fine of $25,000. The charge increases to a class A felony if the burglary occurs during an emergency. The penalty is up to a 20-year prison term and a fine up to $50,000.

New York

Third-degree burglary is a class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. For second degree and third-degree burglaries, offenders can get up to fifteen and seven years in prison, respectively. This jail term is inclusive of a fine up to $5,000.

North Carolina

First-degree burglaries and burglaries with explosives are class D felonies. They can lead to a prison sentence of up to 160 months. Second-degree burglary is punishable by a prison term of up to 31 months.


In the state of Minnesota, burglary in the first-degree attracts between six months to 20 years prison sentence. The jail sentence may include a $35,000 fine, or the fine may be an option instead of jail time.

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