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Outside of criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, and police officers, very few people understand the difference between burglary and robbery; however, despite the lack of knowledge on the subject, these terms are tossed about with abandon in everyday conversation, television news segments, and television police dramas.
Despite the conflation of these two terms, there are significant differences in their meaning and the consequences associated with each crime. Both crimes are considered property crimes, meaning that they involve the theft of property from a person or the unlawful entry into a home or business with the intent of stealing property. Read on to learn the differences and similarities between the two crimes.
Burglary is defined in legal codes and case law as the "unlawful entry to a structure to commit theft or a felony." Therefore, a burglary takes place when someone enters a building that they do not have permission to enter with the intent of either stealing property or committing some other felony. It is important to note that the resident or owner does not need to be present at the time of the crime in order for it to be considered burglary. In addition, a criminal does not even have to enter the structure in order for the crime to be considered burglary. Simply reaching your arm inside and open window and stealing an object from the window seal is enough to constitute burglary.
A burglary can take place in a variety of structures, including homes, businesses, storage companies, and even outdoor buildings such as a detached garage or garden shed. However, please note that breaking into a car and stealing valuables is not considered burglary, but is rather charged as larceny. Whether the vehicle is left locked, or all of the doors are left completely open on a dangerous and dark street, stealing from a vehicle is considered to be larceny.
In the past, a burglary was defined as unlawfully breaking into someone's home with the intention of stealing property. However, the legal definition of burglary has expanded significantly over the last century. Currently, a "structure" can be defined as a home, business, or another permanent man-made structure. Additionally, courts have ruled that a structure can also mean untraditional dwellings such as caves, tents, and even lean-to shelters.
Furthermore, the definition of what constitutes burglary has expanded as well. In the past, prosecutors needed to establish intent to steal property when breaking into a home. However, today prosecutors only need to establish intent to commit a felony, which could include drug use or dealing, sexual crimes, and other offences.
There is a common belief among non-legal professionals that a criminal must use force or violence of some sort in the process of breaking into a structure in order for the crime to be considered a burglary. However, this is simply false. An action as simple as opening a door or lifting an unlocked window is sufficient for the entry to be considered "breaking."
A criminal does need to actually enter a structure in order for their theft to be considered burglary. Courts have found defendants guilty for simply reaching inside an unopened window and stealing an item within reach.
Robbery, on the other hand, does not refer to breaking into a home or other structure in an unlawful manner. A robbery is defined as taking "something from someone that has value by using intimidation, force, or threat." In order for a crime to be defined as robbery, a victim must be present at the time of the theft and they must be threatened or intimidated in some manner.
When you hear of a gas station or bank hold-up, you are hearing about a robbery. For instance, a gas station robbery often involves using force or the threat of force against a cashier in an attempt to force them to open their register or safe, with the intent of stealing the money from those locations. Additionally, although robbery often involves the use of force against an individual, the mere threat of use of force is enough to constitute a robbery.
In order for a robbery to have taken place, a victim must have been present at the time of the crime. If a victim is present and property has been taken from the victim, or property has been taken that was under the victim's control, the crime is considered to be a robbery. This detail comes into play in crimes like bank robbery. Although a manager may not have the contents of the bank safe in their possession, the fact that they have access to the safe and are forced to open the safe for the robbers under the threat of violence is enough to constitute robbery.
One of the key factors in a robbery is the threat or use of violence, or simply the use of intimidation. Producing a weapon, threatening a victim, or even surrounding a victim and insinuating that they may be in danger is enough to form the basis for a robbery charge.