Theft refers to taking someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property. However, under the law, there are many different levels of theft as well as distinct theft crimes that carry a range of penalties. Theft can also be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor crime, depending on the circumstances.
How an act of theft will be punished will largely depend on the severity of the specific theft charges. An example of this would be how stealing a low value item from a retail store will result in lesser charges and penalties than stealing someone else’s vehicle. Additionally, when a person uses weapons or force while perpetrating theft, this will be classified as a more serious crime.
Potential penalties and any available defenses will depend on your state’s laws, as well as the specific theft crime that you were charged with. Additionally, many states use the term “larceny” instead of theft.
As noted, there are many different types of theft charges which range from minor to serious offenses. An example of minor theft would be stealing items, such as lower value jewelry or clothes. This is generally classified as petty theft, or misdemeanor theft.
Alternatively, some examples of more serious theft would include stealing:
- A motor vehicle;
- High value jewelry; or
- A large amount of cash.
Individual state law will classify each offense based on the:
- Type of theft that was involved;
- Value of the stolen property; and
- Whether any aggravating factors were present at the time of the crime.
Stealing more valuable property is generally referred to as grand theft, or grand larceny.
How Is Property Legally Defined?
According to criminal laws, property can be broadly defined because property may include moveable items, as well as immovable items. Some examples of property which may be unlawfully taken away include, but may not be limited to:
- Real property, or immovable items, such as land and things that are attached to that land;
- Tangible or moveable property, such as cars, computers, jewelry, cash, etc.;
- Documents, such as certificates, bonds, tiles, etc.;
- Information that could include a person’s identifying data, a company’s trade secrets, etc; and
- Personal services, such as the service of food at a restaurant, which is also commonly referred to as a dine and dash.
To reiterate, theft is defined as the taking of another person’s property, without their consent and with the intent to deprive that person of their rightful property. According to this definition of theft, property can be considered anything that a person owns.
What Is Burglary?
Burglary is a type of crime that occurs when a person breaks and enters into a home or building for the purpose of committing a crime. It is generally committed when someone intends to carry out the crime of theft once they have illegally entered the premises; however, the unlawful entry onto property with the intention of committing any crime, such as assault or arson, could constitute burglary.
The crime of burglary is frequently called by other names, such as breaking and entering or housebreaking. It is important to note that there may be slight differences between these terms, depending on state criminal laws and statutes. Additionally, depending on state laws as well as the details of the crime that was committed, burglary can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
In order for a crime to be considered burglary, the act of breaking and entering into a structure must be unauthorized. What this means is that the offender must not have any permission to enter the building. Judges have sometimes determined that “structure” or “property” need not refer to an actual building. Tents, cars, rooms, or even coin machines could all be considered for purposes of illegal entry.
Robbery is defined as larceny, but committed with violence, intimidation, or threat of force. Larceny is defined as the “unlawful taking and carrying away of property belonging to another person, with the intent to permanently deprive that person of their property.” A common example of robbery would be holding a person at knifepoint and demanding that they give up their property, then taking that property away.
The defining difference between burglary and robbery is that burglary requires breaking and entering into someone’s property, while robbery does not require breaking and entering into a building. Another difference between the two theft crimes would be that in order for it to be considered a robbery, a weapon or a threat of a weapon must be used during the completion of the crime. Alternatively, burglary does not require the use of or threat of a weapon.
Do Burglary And Robbery Charges Carry Different Penalties?
Simply put, yes, burglary and robbery charges carry different penalties. If the defendant is found guilty of burglary, depending on the severity of the burglary, they could face the following penalties:
- Imprisonment, ranging from one year to twenty five years;
- Court ordered counseling; and/or
- Court ordered rehabilitation program.
As previously mentioned, the severity of the theft crime committed will largely influence the resulting penalties. Some of the following factors may be considered by the judge when determining specific burglary penalties:
- Previous criminal record, most specifically prior burglary convictions;
- The defendant’s probation status;
- The type of structure that was involved in the burglary, such as a home vs an office;
- Whether any other people were present in the structure at the time of the burglary;
- The type of crime that the defendant intended to commit during the burglary;
- Whether any weapons were involved; and
- Whether the defendant used force during the crime.
Robbery convictions may take the form of several different degrees, depending on the severity of the crime. Additionally, robbery is legally defined as “an inherently dangerous felony in which death can be foreseeable.” According to this definition, robbery may also be a first degree felony murder if someone is killed during the commission of the crime. This extends to circumstances in which the defendant did not intend to kill the victim, but still did. The penalties for robbery generally include:
- Imprisonment, ranging from one year to a life sentence;
- Probation; and/or
- Higher criminal fines.
When determining robbery penalties, the sentencing judge may consider the following criteria:
- The use of a firearm or weapon;
- Previous criminal record, especially prior robbery convictions;
- Probation status;
- Whether the robbery resulted in an injury or death to any victims;
- The type of property that was stolen, as well as its value;
- The location of the crime; and
- The number of accomplices involved, such as getaway drivers and/or lookouts.
Are There Any Theft Defenses?
If you are charged with theft, there may be some available defenses you can use in court depending on the circumstances of your case. This generally includes:
- True ownership of the property by the defendant; and
- Authorization to use the property.
If mitigating factors are present, they can sometimes lessen the severity of your punishment for the crime. Some examples of mitigating factors include, but may not be limited to:
- Lack of criminal history;
- Remorse for the crime committed;
- The defendant’s age; and
- Whether the defendant cooperated during the criminal investigation.
Do I Need An Attorney For Burglary Or Robbery Charges?
If you are being charged with a theft crime, such as burglary or robbery, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal lawyer immediately.
An attorney can advise you regarding your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.