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Theft vs. Robbery: What's the Difference?

Laws exist to help maintain order. Breaking the law might seem like a black and white subject, but criminal charges can be confusing. One of the more confusing topics is the difference between theft and a robbery.

Most people don't understand the distinction between the two, but each has its own definition and punishment. Identifying the key points between these two crimes will help you be more prepared to face a theft or robbery charge in the future.

Theft Defined

A theft occurs whenever someone takes something that doesn't belong to them. The item must be taken from the original owner, and the person taking it must have no intention of returning the item.

Theft can occur when the victim is not present. Someone breaking into a home while the homeowners are on vacation or stealing a parked car are examples of theft. Since there is no interaction between the perpetrator and the victim, thefts can be classified anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The value of the item stolen and the circumstances leading up to the crime will be taken into consideration when a prosecutor is deciding whether to charge someone with a felony theft or a misdemeanor theft.

Robbery Defined

A robbery embodies all of the elements that define a theft. Something is taken by a person without the owner's permission during both a theft and a robbery. What sets a robbery apart is the presence of the victim or other individuals at the time the crime was committed. For a theft to escalate into a robbery, the perpetrator must take the item (or items) in question using force. The threat of force can also justify a robbery charge.

Verbal threats can be viewed as a type of force, but many robberies are committed using a gun or knife. These types of robberies could be classified as aggravated robberies by a prosecutor, making them felonies that could land a perpetrator in prison if he or she is found guilty.

Criminal Defense

It's important that you work with an attorney who understands the scope of the crime you are charged with when facing robbery or theft charges. Your attorney may be able to work with the prosecutor to get a theft downgraded to a misdemeanor or a robbery downgraded to a theft.

Work closely with a criminal law attorney to ensure you are being charged with the right crime and that you are minimizing the penalties associated with a guilty verdict.