Whether on TV or during conversations with friends, the words “theft” and “robbery” are often lumped together and used interchangeably. And while they share a lot of similar characteristics (i.e., taking someone else’s property), there are substantial differences between the two — especially in the eyes of the law.
The Legal Definition of Theft vs. Robbery
Theft, also known as larceny, petty theft, and grand theft (depending on the monetary value of what’s stolen), involves taking someone’s property that doesn’t belong to you. This could include scenarios like taking a wallet that was left behind in a restaurant, stealing a bike left outside of a store, or shoplifting.
- Property: Intent to take someone’s property or goods.
- Wrongful: Theft involves deceit or trickery to take someone else’s property.
- Deprive: To prove theft, it has to be clear that a person intended to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property.
The major difference between theft and robbery is that robbery is taking something from a person, using force or the threat of force.
- A person: To be found guilty of robbery, you have to take something from someone. If an item was left behind, it would not constitute robbery. However, if you grabbed a wallet out of someone’s hand, that may be considered robbery.
- Violence: Unlike theft, robbery is a violent crime. That being said, the victim doesn’t have to suffer an injury for a crime to be violent. The threat of violence, such as holding a gun or knife to someone or verbally threatening them with future violence still constitutes a violent crime.
Burglary is also commonly thrown into the mix when we talk about theft and robbery. And while burglary can involve taking something that doesn’t belong to you, the actual definition is a bit broader. To commit a burglary, you must enter a structure or dwelling with the intent to commit a crime within it — any crime.
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