question.jpgIn Criminal Law

What is the difference between burglary, robbery, and theft?

Here is the shortest answer to that question. First, burglary is the intent to break into a building without consent with the intent of committing a crime inside (including theft). Burglary is a specific intent crime, requiring that the burglar knowingly intend to commit a crime while inside. A person does not have to forcibly enter a building to commit burglary; going in through an unlocked window or door can still fulfill the “breaking” element of burglary.

Theft simply involves taking something from someone else with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Embezzlement is a form of theft in which an employee diverts money intended for his employer or other employees for his or her own use. Likewise, fraud is also a form of theft, involving using trickery to permanently deprive someone of his or her property.

Finally, robbery is another specific intent crime, requiring both theft and a form of violence or threat of violence used to deprive someone of their property. The most common example of a robbery is a convenience store holdup, in which a robber threatens to shoot a cashier unless the cashier hands over the loot.

In all three cases — theft, burglary, and robbery — the government must prove that the defendant intended to permanently deprive someone of his or her property; generally, this element can be proven through the jury’s use of common sense or other circumstantial evidence suggesting the defendant meant to take the property forever. For instance, if a person steals someone else’s car and then claims it wasn’t a theft because he meant to return the car when he was done, the government can admit evidence that the defendant removed the VIN number to suggest he planned to permanently deprive the owner of his vehicle.