Theft, burglary, and robbery are similar crimes with important unique distinctions. If you have been accused of one of these crimes, understanding the differences between them can help you prepare for your defense.
The most basic, and least serious, of these three crimes is theft. In order to prove that a theft occurred, the prosecutor must show that the accused intended to permanently take or withhold the victim's property and permanently deprive him or her of its use. This can't occur by mistake - the prosecutor must also show an intent to steal.
Also referred to as larceny, theft can involve many types of property, including everyday personal property, money, or the value of labor or services performed. A theft only occurs when the elements listed above apply. So, if a person has permission to take the property, or if a person mistakenly believed that the property was theirs, that person would not be guilty of theft.
In California, there are two classifications of theft: Grand theft and petty theft. Petty theft involves the taking of property worth less than $950, while grand theft involves property valued over $950 or property that is stolen from a person. Petty theft is almost always a misdemeanor, while grand theft can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances.
Like theft, robbery is taking something that does not belong to you which you do not have permission to take. Unlike theft, robbery requires that you take this property from a person while using force or the threat of force.
In order to take property from a person, that person must have control of it. This means that breaking into an unoccupied vehicle would be theft, but breaking into a car while the driver was inside would be robbery.
Robbery also requires force or violence. Though the classic example is a mugger with a knife or a gun, a robbery can occur when the accused uses the threat of violence or a victim's fear to take the property.
Robbery is always a felony in California, even when no one was injured. Whether the robbery is a first degree felony or a second degree felony depends on the circumstances. The sentences can also be extended automatically if a weapon was used during the crime; for example, using a gun during a robbery carries an additional, automatic sentence enhancement of 10 years even if it was never fired. If someone was injured or killed during a robbery, these sentence enhancements become much more severe.
Unlike theft and robbery, burglary happens - by definition - inside a house or other dwelling place. According to California law, a burglary requires that a person enters a room, structure, or locked vehicle with the intent to commit a felony inside.
Even though burglary is often known as "breaking and entering," a person can be found guilty of burglary even if they didn't have to break in. For example, walking through an open garage door and stealing a bike would be burglary, even though there was no "breaking" involved.
In addition, though many people hear the term burglary and think of theft, burglary can involve any type of felony. Entering a home with the intent to commit an assault would be burglary, as would entering a bank with the intent to cash a forged check.
Like robbery, there are two degrees of burglary and both are always felonies. First degree burglary carries the harshest sentence and occurs when someone breaks into a house, apartment, or hotel room. Second degree burglary is more common in commercial buildings like department stores or banks.
In order to win a case against a person accused of robbery, burglary, or theft, the prosecution must be able to prove all elements of the alleged crime. If even one element of the crime is missing, the charges cannot stand.
If you are facing criminal charges for one of these crimes, you need experienced legal representation who understands the differences in the law. At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, our experienced California criminal defense attorneys will consider all options for your defense, and can help you clear your name. For a free initial consultation, call 866.902.6880 or visit our website and schedule your appointment today.