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

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 05, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Although burglary, robbery, and theft are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the three.

What the three have in common, of course, is that they all may involve the unauthorized taking of someone's personal property by another person (aka stealing). But beyond this shared link, burglary, robbery, and theft are all different crimes.

What are the differences between the three?


Theft is the most basic of the three crimes. A theft occurs any time there in an unauthorized taking of property from another with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property.

In most states, the common law crime of larceny has been merged into a general "theft" crime. But in some states, larceny may be considered its own criminal offense, occurring when a person unlawfully takes and carries away another person's personal property without consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner.


So if stealing something is theft, then what is robbery? Robbery is essentially theft accomplished through the use of physical force or fear.

For example, someone stealing your purse after you set it down on a table and walked away would be theft. But someone stealing your purse by demanding you hand it over in a threatening way or by violently snatching it away from you would be robbery.


The crime of burglary, though most often equated with theft, doesn't actually require that a theft occur, or even be intended. Burglary is simply the unlawful entry into a structure, such as a home or business, with the intent to commit a crime inside. Although many burglaries involve theft, the crime intended can be any crime from theft, to murder, to making pot brownies.

A person can be charged with burglary regardless of whether the crime intended was actually committed. Additionally, the unlawful entry into the structure need not be accomplished by breaking and entering (although that is often the case). Rather, the entry merely must merely be unlawful, such as trespass through an unlocked door.

If you have been charged with a property crime, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. It is the only way to protect your rights as you face the criminal justice system.

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