Criminal Charges Explained: Robbery v. Burglary

Earlier this week, we began looking at some criminal offenses which may be frequently confused by people who are not in law enforcement or the criminal justice field. On Monday, we discussed burglary and breaking and entering, noting that typically the difference involves an intent to commit a crime. Burglary, in which a person unlawfully enters a building or structure with the intent to commit theft or another crime, is a felony. Breaking and entering, which may or may not be committed with the intent to commit a crime or malicious mischief, is a misdemeanor. In addition to being commonly confused with breaking and entering, burglary is also often misidentified as robbery. Typically, this occurs a person realizes that someone has broken into his or her home and stolen his or her property. The victim tells police that he or she has "been robbed," but technically, this is untrue. Rather, the person's home has been burglarized. Before looking at the legal definition of robbery, let us get a quick reminder of what "burglary" is. Burglary involves entering a building or structure where property is kept with the purpose of committing a crime. If a person or persons gain unlawful entry into an occupied home with the intent to commit a crime, the offense is first degree burglary. If a person or persons gain unlawful entry into any unoccupied structure where property is kept, including vending machines and coin operated machines, with the intent to steal or commit another crime, the offense is second degree burglary. (Read more about burglary on our website or our previous post.) Burglary is often a property crime. Robbery, on the other hand, is a crime against a person. Robbery is defined succinctly in 21 O.S. § 791: "Robbery is a wrongful taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear." In order for a theft to be robbery, the prosecution must prove the elements of (1) theft, (2) directly from a person or in his or her presence, (3) against the will of the victim, and (4) the use of force or fear to effect the crime. Oklahoma law provides clarification of the definition and the offense in subsequent sections, defining the type of fear necessary and saying that the value of the property stolen in a robbery is immaterial. The law specifically states that theft from a person without his or her knowledge--pickpocketing, for example--does not constitute robbery. Much like burglary, robbery is charged by degrees. First degree robbery includes robbery perpetrated under one or more of the following conditions:

  • the defendant inflicts serious bodily injury upon the person;
  • the defendant threatens a person with immediate serious bodily injury;
  • the defendant intentionally puts a person in fear of immediate serious bodily injury; or
  • the defendant commits or threatens to commit a felony upon the person.
Robbery without any these elements is second degree robbery. Second degree robbery is a felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison. First degree robbery, on the other hand, is a felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison. In broad terms, one can think of burglary as theft from a building and robbery as theft from a person. However, these terms are quite broad and do not fully cover every scenario. For example, pickpocketing is theft from a person, but it is not robbery. Shoplifting is theft from a building, but it is not burglary. A home invasion, although people are present, fits the definition of first degree burglary, not robbery--although in this scenario, either or both crimes may be charged. This article provides a brief overview of the differences between burglary and robbery. For a more detailed conversation about your particular case, visit with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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