Often used interchangeably in colloquial conversations, there is an important legal distinction between a charge of burglary and a charge of robbery. This article will summarize and clarify the difference as defined by law.
The definition of burglary
Burglary, whether first, second, or third-degree, is defined as knowingly entering or remaining in a building unlawfully with the intent to commit a crime. Another crime, such as theft, does not need to take place at the time of the alleged burglary. Rather, it is the intent and the physical presence of the accused that justifies the charge.
The definition of robbery
Robbery is forcibly stealing property. In this case, the intent is made clear by either the immediate use or threat of physical force upon another person. A robbery always includes theft and often accompanies other charges.
Important distinction clarified
Burglary is a crime against property, and robbery is a crime against a person. Burglary also requires that intent be inferred or proven, while robbery includes a threat that clearly identifies the intent.
Burglary is not always a violent crime, and because a burglary often occurs during the night or at another time when other people are not present, the legal consequences can be less severe. However, if the burglary occurs along with an additional crime or when the burglar is armed or causes harm to another person, the implications can be more serious. If a burglary occurs at a dwelling, there is an increased likelihood of a violent encounter, and it will be considered a second-degree burglary charge.
A robbery always involves the use or threat of violence. As the intent and the crime are likely to have been witnessed firsthand, it may be easier for the prosecution to build a case and follow through with a robbery charge.
There may be an overlap in actions that elicit a charge of burglary and a charge of robbery, but each of these charges requires a unique and effective defense. A third-degree burglary may not be treated as a very serious charge; however, when a robbery occurs during the burglary because of an unexpected encounter with the property owner, severe consequences may be pursued, necessitating specialized legal knowledge to navigate the best course of action.