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Robbery and burglary are related but different crimes.
Robbery, then, involves the actual taking of a person’s property and the use of force or fear, whereas burglary just requires the intent to take a person’s property (or the intent to commit some additional crime).
Many jurisdictions define robbery as
Some jurisdictions classify the crime into different degrees (first-degree and second-degree).
By contrast, most states define the crime of burglary as entering any commercial or residential structure or locked vehicle with the intent to commit theft or some additional crime once inside.
Theft is a separate and distinct crime from both robbery and burglary. A person commits the offense by taking another person’s property without that person’s consent. Some jurisdictions refer to theft as “larceny.”
Most states say that a person is guilty of robbery if he/she:
Robbery is typically considered a type of violent crime.
Some jurisdictions classify the offense into different degrees, like
For example, Washington State says that robbery in the first degree is charged when an accused commits robbery and also:
Robbery in the second degree is essentially a robbery that does not meet the qualifications of robbery in the first degree.3 Washington law defines robbery in roughly the same manner as set forth above.4
Other states make a distinction between:
The latter occurs when a person commits robbery and either:
Robbery is a felony offense. Depending on the facts of the case and state laws, a robbery charge can lead to:
Most jurisdictions agree that a person is guilty of burglary if he/she:
It is usually a criminal defense if the burglar can show that the property that he/she entered was abandoned at the time of the alleged offense.7
As with robbery, some states classify burglary into varying degrees and levels.
For example, Indiana actually has five possible levels of burglary – with level one being the most severe. According to Indiana’s criminal laws:
States differ on whether “breaking and entering” (forcible entries) is a required element of burglary.
In addition, most jurisdictions provide a separate law regarding “residential burglary.” This is when:
Many states say that all burglary offenses are always felonies that are punishable by state prison terms and/or significant fines.
Other jurisdictions say that lesser forms of burglary can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor forms of burglary carry less severe penalties, like custody in jail for up to six months or one year.
The main difference between robbery and burglary is that the first crime involves the actual taking of someone else’s property. Burglary simply requires that someone enter a structure with the intent to take something.
Also, robbery requires that a person act with some type of force or threat of force or violence. A person can commit burglary, in contrast, without exhibiting any type of aggressive or threatening behavior.
Note that if a person casually strolls into someone’s home with the desire to take something, he/she has committed burglary. But if during that time the owner of the home returns, and the person takes something and threatens to harm the owner, then the person has committed both burglary and robbery.
In short, robbery is a violent offense whereas burglary is a property offense. In practice, police have an easier time solving robbery cases because there was a witness. Burglary often happens without the victims seeing it.
For further discussion, see our article on theft vs robbery.
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, 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.