Burglary vs Robbery vs Theft: What’s the Difference?
Although the terms theft, robbery, and burglary are often used interchangeably, they are distinct crimes with separate penalties under the Texas Penal Code. In general, theft is taking something that belongs to someone else. If the theft (or another crime) is committed or attempted while unlawfully entering a building, a person may also be charged with burglary. If bodily harm is threatened or caused during a theft, robbery charges may also result.
The severity of these charges varies from low-level misdemeanours to first-degree felonies, with penalties ranging from relatively small fines to lengthy imprisonments.
As with any criminal charge, the potential consequences and available defenses vary greatly with the circumstances of the case. Consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical to obtaining the most favourable outcome possible.
What is Theft?
Theft is one of the most common criminal charges and yet taken very seriously by Texas courts. The theft statute includes many different types of theft-related offenses, and even minor charges can result in significant fines and jail time.
Theft is defined as unlawfully taking property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. In other words, theft occurs when a person takes something that belongs to someone else, without consent and without intending to give it back.
Theft charges and penalties are classified by the type and value of the property or services stolen. A general overview of the classification of theft charges and the corresponding penalties are listed below:
- Misdemeanour Theft (property or services stolen valued at less than $2,500)—up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000;
- State jail felony theft (value $2,500-$29,999)—up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000;
- Third-degree felony theft (value $30,000-$149,999)—up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000;
- Second-degree felony theft (value $150,000-$299,000)—up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000; and
- First-degree theft (value $300,000 or more)—up to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
As with any criminal conviction, the sentence imposed will depend on the charges and circumstances of the case, the presence of aggravating factors (such as prior convictions), and ultimately, the quality of your legal defense. Courts examine additional case factors in sentencing for a theft conviction; these range from whether the stolen property belonged to a person 65 or older or a nonprofit organization or was under the control of a public servant, to whether the defendant caused the fire alarm to go off.
In addition to criminal charges, Texas law allows the victims of theft to file a civil lawsuit to recover damages, penalties, and legal fees.
Texas theft law and penalties are complex, and even minor charges can result in significant jail time. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can be the difference between a dismissal of charges and spending years in jail.
What is Burglary?
Under the Texas Penal Code, a person commits burglary if, without the consent of the owner, the person:
1. Enters a habitation or building with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault; or
2. Remains concealed in a habitation or building with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault; or
3. Enters a habitation or building and commits or attempts to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
A “habitation” includes not just houses and apartment buildings but any structure or vehicle that is adapted for overnight accommodations—a trailer, recreational vehicle (RV), and even a car that someone was living in have been considered habitations under the burglary statute.
Structures attached to the habitation—such as a garage—are considered part of the habitation for purposes of the burglary statute.
The penalties for a burglary conviction vary with the circumstances of the case and the severity of the charges, whether you have a prior criminal record, and the quality of your legal counsel. In general, the penalties for burglary of a building or habitation are as follows:
- If the building is not a habitation, a burglary conviction is a state jail felony, with a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 and imprisonment up to two years.
- A burglary committed or attempted in habitation is a second-degree felony, with a maximum fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment up to 20 years.
- A burglary where the defendant committed or intended to commit a felony other than felony theft is a first-degree felony, which can carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 and life imprisonment.
Burglary of a vehicle and the corresponding penalties are defined separately in the Texas Penal Code. A person commits burglary by breaking into or entering a vehicle, without the consent of the owner, with the intent to commit theft, or any type of felony. Most vehicle burglaries are misdemeanours, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and imprisonment up to one year. However, burglary of a vehicle may be classified as a state jail felony or third-degree felony and penalties may increase depending on the defendant’s prior convictions and the circumstances of the case.
What is Robbery?
A person commits robbery if, during a theft, the person’s intentional or reckless actions cause bodily injury to the victim, or cause the victim to fear imminent bodily injury or death. In TX, it is a second-degree felony, punishable with up to 20 years imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $10,000.
If the person causes serious bodily harm, uses, or exhibits a weapon, or the victim is elderly or disabled, the charge is elevated to aggravated robbery, which is a first-degree felony in Texas. The maximum penalty for aggravated robbery is 99 years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Robbery is a serious charge, and as with any criminal conviction, a judge will consider a multitude of factors in determining the sentence. Because the burden is on the prosecution to prove all the elements of the charge and to argue aggravating factors for sentencing, the quality of your defense counsel can be the difference between a dismissal or reduction of charges, and years in prison.
If You’ve Been Charged with Theft, Burglary, or Robbery in Texas
If you’ve been arrested for theft, burglary, or robbery, and particularly if you’re facing felony charges, it is critical to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to protect your rights. Do not speak to the police without an attorney present. Even conviction on minor theft-related charges may result in significant jail time and become part of your criminal record, affecting your reputation and ability to find employment for years into the future. With skilled representation, it may be possible to have your charges reduced or even dismissed.