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What is the Difference Between Burglary and Robbery?

Updated on October 2, 2018
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Cholee has a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and has volunteered her time in juvenile group homes.

The terms burglary and robbery are often confused by those who are not familiar with the terms or the criminal justice system. The world of criminal justice can be a very confusing place, especially for those who have not had much education of the terms and laws used throughout the system.

Burglary and robbery are used interchangably by most people including teachers and reporters. However, there is a huge difference between the two terms from a criminal justice stand point. This article will cover the differences, the laws, and crimes of robbery and burglary.



Defined by law, burglary is the act of unlawfully entering into a structure (not just homes and businesses) with the intent to commit a crime. No physical breaking and entering is required, one can simply trespass through an open door or window and still commit a burglary.

In order for a burglary to take place a victim does not have to be present and items do not need to be stolen from the structure. For example, if an offender enters a shed looking to steal ladders and finds none leaving empty handed the offender has still committed a burglary, because of their unlawful entry into the structure in the first place.

Burglary is one of the easiest crimes to commit and is also the most common crime committed. Somewhere in the United States a burglary is committed every 15 seconds. Below are five tips to make your house burglary-resistant.

Protection against Burglars:

  1. Don't advertise you're away--One of the first things burglars look for is an empty home. Rather than hold your mail, have your neighbors come and pick it up. Burglars are likely to see people coming and going, making them think people are actually at home when they are not.
  2. Make it hard to break in--Besides an empty home burglars look for structures that are easy to get in and out of. Always keep windows and doors locked, and don't hide keys outside where they can be easily found.
  3. Keep shrubs and trees low--Taking away hiding places for burglars will greatly decrease their desire to try and burglarize your home.
  4. Install motion lights--With lights that illuminate doors and your yard burglars are less likely to try and break in. Lights also allow neighbors to help watch your home from burglars.
  5. Install a home security system--Security systems are not a fool proof way to protect your home, but a well advertised security system may greatly deter the burglars from stopping at your home. However, some of the best security are neighbors. Make friends and make a point to look out for each other.

*Note: A car cannot be burglarized. Under all conditions breaking into a locked or unlocked car/truck is called larceny.


Defined by law, robbery is the act of theft or larceny of property or money through the use of force or threat of force of a person. In order for a robbery to occur, a victim needs to be present and the offender has to use force or threat of force against the victim.

The act of robbery almost always requires the presence of a victim who suffers injury or is threatened with harm. The use of a deadly weapon will elevate the crime to armed or aggravated robbery, depending on the weapon used and the injuries received by the victim.

Robbery can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. Below are five simple and easy tips to protect yourself and others from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Protection against robbery:

  1. Don't walk alone at night--Whenever possible walk in groups, there is safety in numbers.
  2. Let family or friends know where you are--Letting people know where you are and when you are returning will allow them to call police as quickly as possible if a problem arises.
  3. Use well lit sidewalks and roads--Avoid dark alleys, wooded areas, and vacant lots as they receive less foot travel. When walking on sidewalks walk closest to the road and avoid doorways, bushes, and other hiding places.
  4. Walk confidently, directly, and at a steady pace--Even if you are unsure where you are going or where you are, being confident and walking steady gives off the perception that you are confident and are paying attention to your surroundings. The more confident and aware you look, the less likely a robber is going to try and attack.
  5. Know the neighborhoods--Knowing the buildings and people in the neighborhoods you live and work in, will help you in times of trouble or unease. Knowing where the fire and police station are as well as the library, gas stations, or other buildings with many people will give you a place to turn to if you spot a person, or people that make you feel uneasy.

How much do you know?

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Robbery vs. Burglary in a Nutshell

There are some major defining factors that set burglary and robbery apart. The table below is provided to help clear up some common misconceptions and help people understand the clear difference between the two terms.

Defining Factors
Usually none
Almost always
Unlawful entrance
Can take place within (not needed)
Use of weapon or fear
Not necessary

The difference between these two terms is fairly easy if you know the circumstances of the crime. A short description of the crime will allow law enforcement officers to know what they are dealing with.

Knowledge is power, and knowing the difference between robbery and burglary will be helpful when talking about crime, or if you yourself have become a victim. Each state has their own laws on robbery and burglary so it is imperative that you know the laws for your state as well as the federal laws.

© 2012 Cholee Clay


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