What Is The Difference Between Theft, Robbery & Burglary?

The terms “burglary,” “robbery,” and “theft” are often used interchangeably. All three are terms that denote the unauthorized taking of another’s personal property (stealing). However, in the context of the legal system, there are distinct differences between the three, with each being their own distinct crime.


Theft (legally referred to as larceny) is considered the most basic of the three, and one of the most commonly committed crimes. A “theft” occurs any time there in an unauthorized taking of property from another with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property. Property is tangible, and typically involves money, physical goods, or any object one could transport or move. Theft is committed when the perpetrator acts against the owner’s interests and takes an object without the owner’s permission, usually through the use of deceit. In addition, the perpetrator must intend to permanently deprive the owner of the object. For example, let’s say a person accidentally picks up someone else’s suitcase while at the airport and takes it home thinking it is in fact their own suitcase. Once at home, the person realizes their mistake and tries to return the suitcase to the rightful owner. In this situation there is no theft crime that occurred here because there was never any intent to permanently deprive.

Additionally, theft has been merged with the common law crime of larceny in most states. However, in some states, larceny may be considered its own criminal offense. This may be so if a person unlawfully takes and carries away another person’s personal property without consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner.


Robbery is taking simple theft a step further. The crime of theft is considered robbery when it is accomplished through the use of physical force or fear. Robbery is considered a violent crime, though the victim does not have to suffer any type of injury for it to apply. The threat of violence is enough for theft to turn into robbery. For example, the crime of forcing a bank clerk to open a bank vault to take money is considered robbery, even if the clerk is not harmed. The threat of violence is there and is thus sufficient to show that a robbery has occurred.


The crime of burglary can be a form of theft, but an actual theft does not have to occur for someone to be accused and convicted of burglary. Burglary is considered the unlawful entry into a structure, such as a home or business, with the intent to commit a crime. While many think of burglary as entering a person’s home, it can be much broader than this. To commit burglary, an individual must simply enter any structure with the intent to commit a crime inside. A structure can be a home, nonresidential building, tent, or even natural formations (like caves). “Breaking” is also a term that can be misinterpreted. An individual does not have to use violence or force to enter a structure for it to be considered burglary. Breaking or force can simply be opening a door that was unlocked, or even slightly pushing a door that is already open. An individual also does not have to fully enter the structure. For example, if someone opens a window and extends their arm in to take something, it would be considered burglary.

Burglaries typically involve theft, however, the crime intended can be any crime, from theft to murder. But there must be an intent to commit some sort of crime in order for the burglary charge to stick. If a person merely enters a structure to get out of the cold, this would just be a trespass charge as the person had no intent to commit any sort of crime inside the structure.

When accused of theft, robbery, or burglary, it is a good idea to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, such as the Law Office of Ashley Daniel.

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About the Author

Dain Dreyer is a highly qualified and dedicated Texas Personal Injury & Family Law Lawyer who can help you in your time of need.

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