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

Sometimes, a seemingly small difference between two actions can have huge consequences. When it comes to criminal charges, the difference between a theft charge and a robbery charge might mean a relatively small fine or similar punishment, or serving serious jail time.

While it is never desirable to face criminal charges, it is generally more desirable to face some form of theft charge over robbery charges, depending on the severity of alleged crime.

Should you or someone you love face criminal charges like theft, robbery or burglary, you should consider how you plan to build your defense. No matter what the charges against you, you still have a right and an opportunity to build a defense to fight these charges. In most cases, it is wise to seek out the guidance and representation of an experienced defense attorney who can identify weaknesses in the prosecution and assemble a strategy for protecting your rights and freedoms against criminal accusations.

Theft or robbery?

All of these crimes have to do with one party taking or using the property of some other party without the permission or knowledge of that party. The simplest of these is theft. In broad strokes, theft occurs when one party takes property from another party without intending to return the property.

This can take many forms, from complicated heists, to simple purse snatching. However, it important to note that theft does not involve any personal harm or threat of harm to a person. Theft is a strictly material crime, which is a significant distinction. Theft, unlike robbery, is a non-violent crime.

Theft evolves into robbery when the party committing theft uses physical force or some threat of harm. In many cases, this means a street theft where the perpetrator threatens the victim with a gun or knife or simply threatens physical violence, but it is not always that simple. For instance, if a person walks up to a street merchant and slips this individual a note that implies that he or she is carrying a deadly weapon and will use it to cause harm unless demands are met, this may count as robbery. Even though there was no particular use of force, the prosecution may contend that the note constitutes enough of a threat.


Burglary is more specific than robbery or theft. Burglary may occur any time someone enters a structure unlawfully while intending to commit a crime inside that structure. The crime itself does not have to be a theft, and that crime does not even have to take place for the action to count as burglary.

The unlawful entry component of burglary means that any crime committed inside the structure can qualify the action as burglary, even if it seems entirely unrelated. For instance, if a person were to break into a restaurant and use the kitchen to bake a batch of brownies with cannabis butter, this may count as a burglary.

Don’t wait to begin fighting charges

Make no mistake — all of these charges require serious attention. You must begin building your case as soon as you can to have the greatest chances of defeating the charges or mitigating the punishment.


Have you been charged with a crime? See our Criminal Defense service page for help now.

Have you been charged with a crime? Contact Levine Law.

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