What's The Difference? Robbery, Theft, and Burglary Definitions

by Scotsman Shield
Robbery, Theft, and Burglary Definitions

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, robbery and burglary are two different crimes, and theft is something different altogether. Do you know the difference between the 3 different crimes? If you're unsure, don't worry. You're not alone.

Read more here for theft, robbery, and burglary definitions.

What is Theft?

Theft might seem straightforward, but there are some intricacies that make it more complicated.

Often called larceny, theft is generally defined as someone taking and carrying away the property of another, without permission, and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property, money, or some other item.

Every state has their own statute defining theft. Most states classify theft based on the amount of the property taken. Petty (or sometimes called petit) theft is a lesser offense and usually involves theft of something that is not worth a lot of money.

For example, in Florida, petit theft is a misdemeanor and is theft of anything under $300.

Grand theft is theft of more expensive items. In Florida, grand theft involves stealing something worth more than $300. Grand theft can also include cars, referred to as grand theft auto.


Some states have separate laws that address shoplifting or taking items from retail stores without paying for them. Shoplifting does not just involve taking items. It could also include changing the prices on items to pay a lower price than the item actually is.

In most states, you don't even need to leave the store to be charged with shoplifting. Simply hiding the item, such as in a backpack or purse, while still in the store could classify as shoplifting.

Lost and Stolen Property

Finding lost property that you then keep without making an attempt to return it to its owner is also classified as theft.

Receiving stolen property is another aspect of theft. Even if you didn't steal the item to begin with, possessing stolen items can be considered a crime and you could face criminal charges, especially if you knew that the items were stolen.

What is Robbery?

Robbery occurs when an offender uses force to take something from another person while they are present. Force could be physical violence, intimidation, or threats.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines robbery as "as the taking or attempting to take anything of value from the care, custody, or control of a person or persons by force or threat of force or violence and/or by putting the victim in fear."

Most states have two different degrees of robbery.

  • First-degree robbery is a felony and typically involves an injury or threat of injury to another person.
  • Second-degree robbery is also a felony, but with a lesser penalty. It usually does not involve an injury or threat of injury to another person.

You can be charged with robbery even if you attempted the crime but didn't complete it successfully. This would be attempted robbery and while it is a criminal offense, the penalty is usually less harsh than if you had completed the robbery.

Robbery is usually prosecuted by the states, but in the case of a bank robbery or carjacking a vehicle and driving it across state lines, the crime becomes a federal offense.

What is Burglary?

Burglary is a little different from theft and robbery. Burglary involves breaking and entering into the home or dwelling of another with the intent to commit a crime. The crime is often stealing, but it does not have to be.

The entering of the dwelling doesn't have to be by force either. A person could forcefully enter by breaking a window, breaking down a door, etc. but if the door is unlocked or a window is open and they use no force, it still is considered burglary.

It doesn't just have to be a house that an offender enters as well. Breaking and entering a shed, hotel room, garage, of vacation home would all be considered burglary.

Like robbery, you can be charged with attempted burglary if you try to break in but are unsuccessful and there are different degrees of burglary.

Most states classify any burglary as a felony, but there are varying degrees that differentiate burglary types, including:

  • first-degree burglary, which typically involves burglary with a weapon and an injury
  • second-degree burglary, which often involves burglary at night or when someone else is in the dwelling
  • third-degree burglary, which is the most basic form of burglary and involves unlawful entrance into a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime

Comparing Theft, Robbery, and Burglary Definitions

Although there are similarities between the three crimes, there are some important differences. Theft doesn't need to involve any force and doesn't involve breaking and entering.

For robbery, there must be some sort of force or threat to the victim, but a weapon doesn't have to be present. Burglary is different from a robbery in that it involves breaking and entering into a dwelling. It might include force or a weapon, but it doesn't have to.

Each state will have their own definitions of each of these crimes, but the general definitions are pretty consistent. If you are unsure of the definitions of crimes in your state, check your state statutes for the exact definitions of the crimes and the penalties.

The Bottom Line

You can protect yourself from being the victim of these crimes using a number of different protective devices, like a home surveillance system, safety lights, home alarm systems, or personal protective devices.

Now that you know about the theft, robbery, and burglary definitions, take protective actions to keep yourself and your home safe. Check out our shop for a full array of different options to increase your safety.


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