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Understanding Burglary, Robbery, and Theft

 Posted on June 23,2016 in Shoplifting, Robbery & Burglary

Santa Cruz criminal defense attorneyMany people mistakenly use the terms burglary, robbery, and theft interchangeably. In everyday conversation, this is not an issue. Most people understand the terms to mean that someone is accused of taking something from someone else without permission. However, there are vast differences between the terms when it comes to the law. Not only do they mean different things, but they also carry varying penalties. Therefore, when reading the charges filed, it is important to understand what you are being accused of before you can defend yourself against it.


Burglary, by definition, is breaking and entering into a dwelling with the intent to commit a felony. This crime occurs without the consent of the victim and involves opening a previously closed area to enter the property. How the premises becomes open makes no matter. If a window or a door is opened that was unlocked, it is still considered breaking. Entering is any physical portion of the intruders body crossing the exterior boundary of the premises, even if it is just a hand or a foot. California statutes define burglary as “entering any home, room, apartment, store, barn, floating home (or many other qualifying buildings) when the doors are secure, for the purpose of committing grand or petit larceny.”

The penalties for burglary vary based on the circumstances of the event. Burglary is separated into first and second degree burglary crimes and the penalties are as follow:

  • First Degree Burglary: These are cases involving entering homes in which are inhabited, i.e. people live there. This pertains to homes and apartments, mostly, and is considered to be a serious felony charge. First degree burglary carries a two, four, or six year prison sentence; and
  • Second Degree Burglary: All other burglary cases. These are considered to be serious, however not as serious as first degree and carry a jail sentence of up to one year.


Robbery is the taking of money or personal belongings from someone else by force or intimidation. The property must be close enough to the victim for them to be in control of it, and had the accused not supposedly used force or intimidation would have maintained control of the item. California frowns upon robbery cases particularly as it is considered to be a violent crime. Similarly to burglary, robbery also is divided into first and second degree charges. In addition, there is also a carjacking penalty, which in also considered to be in the realm of robbery. If convicted, the charges are as follows:

  • First Degree Robbery: The offense is committed in someone’s home or property. This may also be against a cab driver, a bus driver, or any other sort of driver. First degree robbery is a felony that is punishable by three, six, or nine years in prison;
  • Second Degree Robbery: This is all other charges that do not fit into the criteria listed above. It is also extremely severe and is punishable by two, three, or five years in prison; and
  • Carjacking: This is when what is actually being stolen from the driver is the vehicle itself. Convicted carjackers face three, five, or nine years in prison.


Theft is the least severe of the three listed. This is the act of taking something away from someone without their permission without the intent of returning it. It is often said that theft and larceny are the same thing, which is not exactly true. Theft is a broader term that includes larceny, but also includes swindling, embezzlement, and false pretenses. It can include:

  • Property;
  • Money;
  • Real property; or
  • Value of labor or services.

This can be in either a traditional sense of someone deliberately took something without asking, yet also includes if the victim loaned something to the accused and the accused never had any intention of returning it. Theft itself is divided into two severities. These are petty and grand theft. These are defined as:

  • Grand Theft: Property, money, real property or value of labor or services valuing over $950. The Penal Code states that for Grand Theft conviction, the offender may serve up to a year in county jail, or it may be prosecuted as a felony. Felonies have prison time of three months to six years.
  • Petty Theft: The act of taking property that is valued at less than $950. Under California Law, if convicted of petty theft, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to a six month imprisonment.

If you or a loved one has been charged with any of these crimes, it is important to know that California does not take any of these situations lightly. Typically in cases such as these, prosecutors often seek to impose the harshest penalty possible. For this reason, it is imperative to have an aggressive defense lawyer on your side, one with extensive knowledge of the system and experience in cases just like your’s. Having such an attorney to guide you through the process can make the difference between winning your case or losing and having the rest of your life determined by the outcome of a judge. If you are searching for a Santa Cruz, CA criminal defense attorney, contact the office of John W. Thornton today at 831-426-5800 or 831-566-4357 for your free initial consultation.



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