No, they’re not the same: a look at theft, burglary and robbery

“I was robbed.”

Although such an assertion made to law enforcers might be squarely on the mark, the wording might also need some tidying up to be precisely accurate under California law.

If a menacing individual – perhaps overtly armed or with fists in your face – just took you wallet by force, you were indeed the victim of a robbery. If, conversely, you returned to your table at Starbucks after refilling your coffee to find your laptop gone, you can lawfully count yourself a theft victim.

We note on our criminal defense website at the Bay Area Law Office of John W. Noonan that legions of Californians “could not tell you the difference among theft, robbery and burglary.”

And that’s understandable. They’re legal terms with precise meanings. Following is a quick primer.

Let’s start with theft. We note that among the aforementioned three offenses, theft (also sometimes called larceny) “is the most basic charge.” In a nutshell, theft is simply the taking of a third party’s property. California law puts a threshold value on that property to determine whether theft will be charged as a petty or grand offense.

Robbery also involves a taking but, unlike theft, has a clear element of force or reasonably induced fear about it. Moreover, a victim must be physically present for a robbery to occur. A gun-aided extraction of funds from a person withdrawing money from an ATM is clearly a robbery. A missing TV taken from a home while its owner was at work is not.

And then there is burglary, which can be loosely defined as a breaking and entering into a home without the owner’s permission, with intent to commit a crime. Notably, some burglary charges ensue even when a theft does not actually occur.

Further information about any of these charges and attendant criminal penalties can be directed to an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

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