Many people assume the words “theft,” “burglary,” and “robbery” all mean the same thing. While it’s true all three terms describe a crime involving someone else’s property, there are significant differences in the way each offense is legally defined. It’s important for defendants to understand exactly what they are being accused of committing, so to help explain the differences between these crimes, Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson compares the legal definitions of burglary, theft, and robbery as they exist in the Utah Code.
Robbery vs. Burglary and Theft
Every single crime that a person can be charged with is formally defined somewhere in the Utah Code. The prosecutor needs to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant’s actions matched the definition supplied for the crime being alleged. If any of the defendant’s actions – or in some cases, even the defendant’s intentions – did not fit the crime’s legal definition, the defendant cannot be convicted of that particular offense. Each part of a crime’s definition is called an “element of the offense.”
Burglary and robbery have more specific definitions than theft, which is the broadest and most general term for stealing. The key difference between robbery and theft, for example, is that robbery involves theft plus specific elements: using force, or causing another person to fear for their life or safety.
Under the definition provided by Utah’s robbery statute, Utah Code § 76-6-301, a defendant commits robbery if he or she “unlawfully and intentionally takes or attempts to take personal property in the possession of another from his [or her] person, or immediate presence, against his [or her] will, by means of force or fear, and with a purpose or intent to deprive the person permanently or temporarily of the personal property.” In simpler language, it is robbery to take away somebody’s rightful property by using force, or by making the person afraid for their (or another person’s) life or safety. Temporary theft can sometimes award you charges for “wrongful appropriation” in Utah; To understand more about these charges, contact a Salt Lake City wrongful appropriation defense lawyer.
It is also robbery if the defendant “intentionally or knowingly uses force or fear of immediate force against another.” For example, mugging someone or holding them at gunpoint could be charged as robbery. Your Salt Lake robbery defense lawyer will look for holes in the prosecutor’s evidence to determine what sort of defense strategy to use against your charges.
What’s the Difference Between Theft, Larceny, and Grand Larceny?
The phrases petit larceny and grand larceny can cause confusion for people who are unfamiliar with criminal terminology. What do these terms mean, and when are they used?
- Larceny – “Larceny” is simply another word for theft. Some states refer to theft as larceny in their criminal statutes, similar to the way some states call an offense “sexual assault” while others call the same offense “rape.” Utah uses the term “theft,” not “larceny.”
- Grand Larceny – Some states have a crime called “grand larceny” (grand theft), a felony which involves stealing large amounts of money or specific, high-value property. For example, first degree grand larceny in New York involves stealing property worth more than $1 million. While the Utah Code does not call any offense “grand larceny,” a defendant who steals highly valuable property can be charged with felony theft, which is grand larceny’s equivalent. For example, Utah Code § 76-6-412 makes theft a felony if the property was a car, a firearm, or was worth at least $1,500.
- Petit Larceny – “Petit larceny” or “petty theft” is theft of a smaller sum or lower value item. While Utah does not call any theft crime “petit larceny,” a defendant can be charged with its equivalent (misdemeanor theft), depending on the nature and value of the item that was allegedly stolen. For example, theft is a misdemeanor if the value of the stolen property was under $500.
Burglary vs. Robbery in Utah
Burglary also has a very specific definition: illegally entering a property, such as another person’s house or business, with intent to commit a certain kind of crime. As many people are surprised to learn, that crime doesn’t necessarily have to be theft. This means a defendant can break into someone’s house with no intention of stealing anything, yet still be charged with burglary, depending on what crime he or she did allegedly plan to commit. Utah Code defines burglary as “enter[ing] or remain[ing] unlawfully in a building” with intent to commit:
- Any Felony
- Lewdness Involving a Child
- Sexual Battery
Burglary vs. Breaking and Entering in Utah
The difference between “burglary” and “breaking and entering” is similar to the difference between theft and larceny. The term “breaking and entering” is sometimes used to describe burglary, but this is misleading because, as you might remember from earlier, the actual definition of burglary is different. To refresh your memory, burglary is the act of unlawfully entering a building or property for the purpose of committing certain types of crimes, including all felonies. There is no crime called “breaking and entering” in the Utah Code.
Salt Lake City Defense Lawyer Handling Property Crimes
Theft, burglary, and robbery are all serious crimes to be charged with, particularly if the defendant is charged with aggravated robbery or aggravated burglary. In many instances, these are felony charges, and a conviction can lead to years of imprisonment in addition to a criminal record, possible probation, and thousands of dollars in fines.
If you or a family member was accused of stealing or breaking into someone’s property, you need aggressive representation by a skilled Utah criminal attorney. For a free and confidential legal consultation with a Salt Lake theft defense lawyer or burglary defense attorney, contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 today. Our criminal defense law firm handles felony and misdemeanor cases throughout Utah.