Burglary vs Theft vs Robbery What are Main Differences?

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Burglary, theft and robbery are related, but there are key differences between these three crimes. Of course, what they have in common is they usually involve the unauthorized taking of another person’s personal property. But beyond this, burglary, theft and robbery are separate crimes. Below is more information about what distinguishes them from one another.


Theft occurs when someone takes another person’s property without their authorization. The idea is to deprive the person of their property permanently. In most states, larceny is also closely related to theft under the statutes. In other states, larceny can be a separate offense; it occurs when a person illegally takes another person’s property without their consent and has the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently.

Some of the specific types of theft are:

  • Property theft: This is where you take property from the owner without their consent. Financial theft or white collar theft is taking other people’s property through crimes such as insurance fraud, wire fraud, forgery or embezzlement.
  • Petty theft: This is a crime where the stolen property generally is worth under $500 and up to $1000, depending upon the state in which the crime occurs. It usually is a misdemeanor, with up to 12 months in jail a common punishment.
  • Grand theft: These are crimes that involve property worth more, such as $1000 or more, depending upon the state. Grand theft is usually a felony crime and is punished by more than a year in prison.

Larceny is so closely related to theft in many state laws it is important to detail it here. When items that are stolen are taken with stealth and no contact, that is larceny. The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines theft and larceny as essentially the same thing, which is ‘completed or attempted theft of property or cash with no personal contact.’ Larceny or theft occurs in a home where the person does have a legal right to be there; if the person does not have the right, then it is burglary.

In legal terms, larceny or theft occurs if the property in question has been moved some distance. For instance, if an SUV is broken into and started by hotwiring and never moved, this would be attempted larceny. For the theft to be larceny, the crime also has to have been done with specific intent to never return the stolen items to the owner.

Like theft, larceny is usually prosecuted as petty larceny or grand larceny. There will be some variation among the states in the monetary value distinction between these, but for most states, grand larceny begins at $1000. In New York state, petit larceny is where property worth less than $1000 is stolen. This is a class A misdemeanor, with a sentence up to one year in jail and a fine of $1000.

Grand larceny is where property worth more than $1000 is stolen, or if the property is a gun, car or debit or credit card. This is a class E felony that is punishable by four years in prison and a fine up to $5000.


Robbery is theft that is done through the use of intimidation or fear. For instance, if someone steals your wallet after you put it on a table, that is theft. But if someone demands you give them your wallet and threatens you, this is robbery.

Robbery may be prosecuted as attempted or completed, and with or without injury. A completed robbery is usually punished more harshly than an attempted robbery, and when the crime leads to an injury.

Armed robbery is where the criminal uses a weapon of some type to commit the theft. Depending upon the state, some courts may prosecute you for both theft and carrying a weapon. Most states have two classes of robbery. For example, Oklahoma law states that first degree robbery is theft where the criminal seriously injures or threatens to injure another party. It is a felony with 10 years to life sentence possible. Second degree robbery is any robbery where the criminal does not harm or threaten to harm another person.

Other states state that robbery with an accomplice is second degree robbery. States that have this law also have a third degree robbery classification; this is robbery where force is used to take the property from another party.


Burglary tends to be confused with theft, but burglary does not require the actual theft to occur. It does not even have to be intended. Burglary simply means illegally entering a building or home with the idea to commit a crime. Many burglaries end up being a crime of theft but the crime that is intended may be theft, murder and many others.

It is possible to be charged with robbery whether the crime was actually committed or not. Also, unlawful entry into the building does not have to be done by breaking and entering. Instead, the entry just has to be illegal, such as trespassing through an open window or unlocked door. Burglary does not necessarily only occur in a house or apartment. It also can occur in another type of structure on a property, including a shed or garage, or even a hotel room. Burglary can also be committed against a business or school.

You can be prosecuted for burglary just on the basis of intent to commit the crime even if you were unsuccessful. For instance, if you find a stranger stealing your tv but they put it down before they love, this still could be charged as intended burglary.

In most states, burglars can be charged with either actual or constructive entry. Actual entry is when any part of the body has gone into the building, even as little as a hand through an open door. If you use a tool to get into the structure with the intent to use a tool to commit the crime, such as sticking a screwdriver through a window, you still can be charged with actual entry even if you did not physically enter yourself.

Constructive entry is where you encourage or cause another person to commit burglary. The other party might be legally unable to do the crime, such as a child.

Classifications of burglary vary by state, but there are usually four or five degrees. First is the most severe. For instance, in Maryland, there are four degrees of burglary:

  • First degree: Unlawful entrance with intent to commit a theft or violent crime. Punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
  • Second degree: Entering a building (not home) with intent to commit theft or violent crime. Felony and punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
  • Third degree: Unlawful entrance with intent to commit a crime, as well as theft or a violent crime. Felony with maximum punishment of 10 years.
  • Fourth degree: Breaking and entering any dwelling or ‘storehouse’ regardless of what the intent was. Misdemeanor with maximum penalty of three years in jail.

It is important to know that in many other states, ANY type of burglary is a felony. In others, only burglaries that involve violence or physical threat are felonies. Connecticut is one of the states where all burglaries are felonies. This state has three degrees of burglaries that are punishable by anywhere from 20 years to one year in prison, depending upon the degree and whether a weapon was used.