Theft, Burglary, and Robbery – What’s the Difference?

Most people use the words theft, burglary, and robbery interchangeably. Although these three property crimes share some similarities, they are distinctly different. They all involve the act of taking or unlawfully entering another’s property, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.


Also known as larceny, theft involves the unauthorized taking of another’s property. In order to prove theft, the intent must be to permanently deprive another of his or her property. For example, if Sara takes a friend’s bicycle to have it fixed for her birthday and brings it back the next morning, that is not theft. If Sara takes a friend’s bicycle and hides it in her shed for months because she thinks the “friend” is having an affair with her husband, that is theft. Theft is the most basic, and usually the least serious, of these crimes. A MA defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with theft or any type of property crime.


Burglary involves unlawful entry into another’s structure. Although theft is often a component of burglary, nothing needs to be taken to justify a burglary charge. In fact, the intent to steal isn’t even necessary. What is necessary is the intent to commit a crime. If Bob breaks into an abandoned building because he wants to rescue a dog that was locked inside, that’s not burglary. If Bob breaks into an abandoned building to steal items that were left behind, he will likely be charged with burglary. But Bob can be charged with burglary even if he doesn’t steal anything. If he breaks into the abandoned building to commit a crime – to sell drugs, for example – a burglary charge may follow. Furthermore, breaking and entering isn’t even necessary. If Bob just turns the door handle and walks inside – with the intent to commit a crime – this act of unlawful entry may still result in a burglary charge.

Further, the intended crime doesn’t even need to be committed for a person to be charged with burglary. For example, if Bob broke into the building to sell drugs but never went through with the transaction, he can still be charged with burglary.


Robbery, on the other hand, does involve the intent to steal. It also involves physical force or the threat of harm. If someone grabs your purse out of a shopping cart and runs, this is theft, but it’s not robbery. If, however, the person knocks you down and grabs your purse from the shopping cart, this is robbery. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with robbery or another type of property crime.

Penalties for Theft, Burglary and Robbery

In MA, you may face the following penalties if you are convicted of theft, burglary, or robbery:


  • Theft: If the stolen property is valued at $250 or less, the penalties are a fine of up to $300 and up to one year in jail. If the property is worth more than $250, the penalties are up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.


  • Burglary: As with most crimes, the unique circumstances of the crime and prior history will impact the penalties. Burglary is a felony and those convicted could see up to 20 years behind bars. For second and subsequent offenses, however, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years. If you committed armed robbery, the mandatory minimum is increased to 15 years.


  • Robbery: If you assault someone with the intention of stealing from him, you may be convicted of felony robbery. This is true even if you are not successful in your attempt to steal. This crime carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. If the robbery involves confining the victim or victims and threatening violence (for example, a bank robbery), you may face up to life in prison.

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Top Criminal Defense Law Firm

If you have been charged with any type of crime, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of individuals charged with criminal offenses for more than 50 years. Our experienced, knowledgeable lawyers have an impressive track record of getting clients’ charges reduced, or dismissed entirely. Don’t make the mistake of hiring the wrong attorney. Contact Altman & Altman, LLP today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.

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