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What are the differences between burglary, robbery and theft?

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

People often use the terms burglary, robbery and theft interchangeably since there are some similarities. However, each one is different under the law.

What are the legal definitions of these three criminal activities and what are the differences between them?


Theft is also known as larceny. It occurs when someone takes property belonging to another without their consent. The victim does not have to be present. For example, the thief could take money from a purse while the owner of the purse is not in the room. Another example is the theft of services, such as eating at a restaurant and then leaving without paying.


A burglary occurs when someone enters a home, office, garage or even a structure as simple as a tent with the purpose of committing a crime while inside. The crime takes place without the presence of a victim. Simply entering without authorization can bring a charge of burglary.


The crime of robbery involves taking something from the victim using threats, force or violence. The victim must be present. The activity is usually violent but does not necessarily require physical interaction. For example, it might mean intimidating a bank teller into opening the vault so the robber can take something from it.

Notable differences

A charge of robbery indicates that the perpetrator had contact with the victim. A break-in can either be a burglary or a robbery involving the theft of property. If it causes a death, the charge escalates to murder. Shoplifting is theft, but accessing the store after hours when employees are gone for the day is burglary. The legal definitions of these three activities will have a direct bearing on the penalties the convicted criminal will face.