The Difference Between Theft, Larceny, Burglary & Robbery
Although the terms theft, larceny, burglary, and robbery are often used interchangeably by the public, each has a distinct meaning that describes how the crime was committed, the type of crime, and the legal consequences. Burglary and robbery, for instance, can carry significant jail time, while theft or larceny tend to be relatively minor crimes, as long as the value of the property taken remains below the local threshold for grand theft or grand larceny. To learn the differences between these crimes, we must first start with a definition of each.
Theft is taking someone’s property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of its use. It typically involves money or physical belongings and does not necessarily apply to things like a piece of land or real estate. Typically, the owner does not know the theft occurred until after the fact. If the value of the property exceeds a threshold defined by the local jurisdiction (for example, over $1,000), the theft may be classified as grand theft, which is often a felony, and the penalties may increase significantly. In many areas, theft is referred to as larceny, and the terms are interchangeable.
Similar to theft, larceny is the taking of property with the intent of depriving the owner of its use. Some jurisdictions may have slightly different definitions of larceny and theft, or they may be used interchangeably. Petty or simple larceny is usually a misdemeanor and involves theft of property less than the local threshold for grand larceny, while grand larceny is typically a felony.
Often classified as a violent crime, robbery is the theft of property from a person using force or the threat of force. The property must be taken from a person to be considered a robbery, but physical violence or injury is not required. The simple threat of force is enough for the crime to be considered a robbery.
Burglary involves breaking into and entering a structure in order to commit a crime, such as theft. Breaking and entering does not necessarily require a window to be broken or a lock to be picked—the offender can enter through an unlocked opening or even with a key. The structure can often be anything from a house or commercial building to a vehicle, tent, or temporary dwelling, and the theft or other crime need not be successful for the crime of burglary to be charged.
The Differences Between These Crimes
Theft or larceny involves taking property without the use of force and without breaking into a structure to do so. Robbery involves taking property from a person through force or the threat of force, while burglary involves breaking into a structure to commit a crime. Though they have similar elements, each crime has distinctly different definitions, requirements, and penalties. For petty theft and larceny, the penalties may range from fines to short periods of incarceration, typically less than a year, while grand larceny, burglary, and robbery may include long jail sentences of years or more, plus fines.
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