Difference between Theft, Robbery, and Burglary

By: | Updated: Nov-18, 2017
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For what it matters to a victim, theft, robbery, and burglary, all end up with him/her losing something to someone who took advantage of a moment of carelessness or who took it by force. However, as far as the state is concerned, these actions are well-defined and punished accordingly. This is why it is important to know exactly in which category such an act may fall.

Summary Table

Theft Robbery Burglary
The act of taking money or goods from a person without the intent of returning it The act of taking money or goods from a person, without the intent of returning it, and by using force or threats The act of breaking and entering a building with the intent of committing a crime
Is a misdemeanor or a felony Is a second-degree felony Is a second-degree felony
Punishment depends on the value of the item stolen Punishment depends on the weapon and type of threat posed on the other person Punishment applies even if no crime was committed but the person has unlawfully entered the premises
Victim does not have to be present The victim is present Victim does not have to be present


A thief stealing a camera from a backpack

Theft, or larceny, involves the unlawful appropriation of another person’s property without the latter’s consent or knowledge. What is thus stolen is not intended for a return, but for personal use or sale for profit. The punishments for theft vary according to the legislation of each state. For example, the theft of an item whose value is less than $100 is punishable by a fine of $500 in the state of Texas. In California, for example, grand theft is considered to be the case of values higher than $950.

An important issue to remember about theft is that the victim is usually not present or aware of it. Apart from snatching a bike off someone’s lawn, other types of theft include service theft (using services such as mobile phone, utilities, or public transportation without paying for them), eating or staying at a hotel and fleeing without footing the bill, and even identity theft.

Embezzlement, fraud, property damage, arson, looting, mugging, and shoplifting are also considered forms of theft. It is usually considered a misdemeanor or a felony.

Robbery example
A dramatization of a bank robber being confronted by a policeman

Robbery is the act of taking money or goods from another person by means of physical force or fear. For example, we call it robbery if a person snatches a purse off the victim’s shoulder or demands that she hands it over herself at gunpoint. In the case of robbery, the victims are present. All cases of people taking money from banks during holdups are referred to as bank robberies.

This is one of the most serious offenses a person can be accused of, and it implies both harming as well as threatening to harm another person in order to get possession of money or goods. What makes it tricky is the fact that a mere threat, without the actual harming of an individual, places the action in the category of robberies. This means second degree felony charges and serious penalties such as up to 20 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

The severity of the punishment depends on the specifics of each case. For example, “aggravated robbery” refers to having a deadly weapon, or merely making the victim believe such a weapon is present.

A burglar trying to force open a door

For many, a burglary is often associated with the notion of theft, although its definition says something different. We consider burglary to be any situation in which an individual forces his way into a building (residential, business, or any other type of premise) with the intention of committing a crime. Theft is not the only thing that applies in this case, although it is the most often met situation. A burglary may even include breaking into someone’s house to make pot brownies.

What is more, a person can be charged with burglary even without a crime having been committed. All that matters, in this case, is that someone was somewhere he was not supposed to be. It also applies to entering a building through a door left unlocked. This is why a burglary is often referred to as “breaking and entering.”

The victim does not have to be present in the case of a burglary. And even if a crime has not been committed and there is no damage to be reported, the crime of burglary is a very serious charge with a second-degree felony punishment of up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Theft vs Robbery vs Burglary

So what is the difference between theft, robbery, and burglary?

All three are property crimes; however, they do not all imply theft by definition, despite the fact that in most cases, this is the main reason people commit them. Theft means taking money or goods away from a person without the victim noticing. Robbery means threatening the victim into surrendering the goods or taking them by force. Burglary means breaking into a building with intent to commit a crime.

As far as the victim is concerned, he does not have to be present in the case of theft and burglary, but he is present in the case of robbery.

When it comes to punishments, theft is registered as a misdemeanor, while robbery and burglary are registered as second-degree felonies and are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

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