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The Differences Between Theft, Robbery, and Burglary

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When a person takes something from another without permission, it is called theft, robbery, or burglary. You think to yourself, “those three words all mean the same thing. They are synonyms for each other.” In the broad sense, this is true. However, each of these are distinct crimes under California law that are related, yet still differ from each other.

Theft

For a crime to be classified as theft, a person would be taking property that does not originally belong to him or herself. During this incident, there is no person-to-person interaction. For example, if John walks by an apartment building and notices a wallet on the stairs that someone had dropped. Taking it and walking away would be a crime of theft because John never interacted with the owner of that wallet, or anyone else for that matter.

If the value of the stolen items is less than $400, it is considered petty theft. If the value is worth more than $400, it is called grand theft. Depending on this and other circumstances, theft can be charged as an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony.

Robbery

A robbery is when there is person-to-person interaction when a person is trying to take an item that does not belong to them. The person may use force, intimidation, or coercion in order to gain control of the item. If John walks by an apartment building and sees a woman going through her wallet, taking it directly from this woman would be a robbery.

Robberies are charged as felonies. Depending on the circumstances, it would either be a first degree robbery or a second degree robbery.

Burglary

Burglary differs more from theft and robbery, and it is when a person trespasses and enters private property with the intention of committing a crime. However, even if no property was taken or there was no person-to-person interaction, the person would still be charged with a burglary because they had trespassed. If John breaks into the apartment building, it is a burglary regardless if he took that wallet or not, and regardless if he encountered that woman or not.

If a person breaks into a residence, they would be charged with a first degree felony for burglary. If they break into any other buildings like stores or office buildings, they would be charged second degree burglary. This can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.