People often use the terms burglary, robbery and theft interchangeably. In a legal context, they mean very different things, and understanding the difference could be important.
Generally speaking, theft occurs when a person takes something that does not belong to him or her. Robbery is a specific type of theft. A burglary may lead to theft, but theft is not necessary for a burglary to take place.
What is a robbery?
According to Reader’s Digest, robbery is a theft that occurs as a result of physical force or under threat of physical violence. If one person put down a wallet and another person picked it up, that would not be a robbery. It would be a robbery if the other person demanded that the first person hand over his or her wallet and threatened violence if he or she failed to do so.
What is a burglary?
Burglary is another term for breaking and entering. It occurs when someone enters a building for the purpose of committing a crime. The crime could be theft, but it does not have to be. If a person entered someone else’s property for the purpose of stealing his or her possessions, taking the possessions would be theft and breaking onto the property would be burglary. If a person broke into a building with the intention of vandalizing it, the act of breaking in would still be burglary.
It is not that either robbery or burglary is more serious than the other as both offenses can range in severity. Rather, it is that they are different types of offenses. Like theft, burglary is a property crime, while robbery is a violent crime.