Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Criminal Defense » Understanding the Difference between Robbery, Burglary, and Theft
These three California offenses are very closely related…and commonly confused. This is because each one shares “elements” with the other. Let me explain.
Penal Code 211 PC California’s robbery law punishes the act of taking someone else’s property from that person’s “immediate presence” when accomplished by force or fear. Penal Code 211 PC California’s robbery law is the most serious of these three crimes.
If you don’t use force or fear to accomplish the taking…or if the property isn’t in the person’s “immediate presence”, then you simply have a theft. Grand theft if the property’s value exceeds $400, petty theft if the value is $400 or below.
And, despite common misconception, a burglary under California law doesn’t necessarily involve stealing. A burglary takes place when you enter a building and already have the intent to commit a felony or to steal.
This means that if you go into a house…and intend to steal once inside…you have committed burglary and theft. If during that time, someone comes home and you threaten to harm him if he stops you from taking more property, you have committed robbery, burglary, and theft.
But if you enter a store, simply intending to shop…and only form the intent to steal once inside…you don’t commit a burglary. And whether you use force or fear to accomplish the taking will determine whether or not you are only guilty of theft or also of robbery. (Also read our article, “Three California Crimes Often Charged During Emergencies.”)
For a more detailed discussion, see our page on the difference between robbery and burglary.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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