By: Mark Diaz
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What Is the Difference in Punishment for Burglary and Robbery?
One of the most fundamental principles of civilization is that stealing is wrong. Think back to the Ten Commandments in the Bible, which includes the admonition, “Thou shall not steal.” Even thousands of years ago, society understood the need to punish those who took things that did not belong to them.
In present-day Texas law, however, there are many different types of criminal offenses related to stealing. Some of these crimes tend to get confused in the public’s mind. For instance, what is the difference between “burglary” and “robbery”? Are they the same thing? And if they are different, is one considered more serious than the other?
Let’s start with burglary. At its core, burglary involves entering someone else’s property without their permission with the intent to commit some other crime. Notice we did not say with the intent to “steal.” Although many burglaries do involve stealing, that is not a necessary element of the crime.
The Texas Penal Code states that burglary occurs under any of the following conditions:
- A person enters a habitation or a part of a building that is not open to the public with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
- A person remains concealed in a building with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
- A person enters a building or habitation and commits or attempts to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
The word “habitation” appears frequently in the laws describing burglary. We usually think of a habitation as the same thing as a house, apartment, or other residence. The Penal Code relies on a slightly more technical definition: A habitation is any “structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons.” This means that a habitation can include a recreational vehicle or even a tent set up for camping.
Essentially, if it is possible for people to sleep in an enclosed space, it is a habitation. The habitation need not be occupied at the time for entry to be considered burglary. In addition, it is not necessary for any theft or separate crime to occur inside the building or habitation at the time.
Consider this scenario: Two people are planning to rob a house in a wealthy neighborhood. They wait for the owners to leave and then pick the lock on the back door. After entering the house, the owner’s dog confronts the would-be robbers, who quickly exit without taking anything. Even though nothing was stolen, the two men still committed burglary. The crime was forcibly entering a habitation without the owner’s permission with the intent to take their stuff. The fact that nothing was actually taken is legally irrelevant, at least with respect to a burglary charge.
Theft and Robbery
This brings us to theft. Theft is when you actually take someone else’s property, and not just intend to do so. The Penal Code defines theft more precisely as the “unlawful appropriation” of property “with intent to deprive the owner” of said property. An unlawful appropriation includes any situation where:
- The property was taken without the effective consent of the owner.
- The property was stolen from someone who themselves stole it from the original owner.
- pThe property was stolen from a law enforcement agent who represented the property as stolen.
A theft need not involve violence or burglary. Consider shoplifting. If you enter a store during normal business hours, you are clearly not committing burglary. And if you simply swipe some merchandise off the shelf and walk out, there is no violence involved. Yet it is still considered theft.
Now, when theft does involve committing (or threatening) violence against another person, then we are talking about robbery. The Penal Codestates that robbery occurs when a person “in the course of committing a theft” of property also “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another,” or puts another person “in fear of imminent bodily injury or death.”
In plain terms, if you point a gun at someone and order them to turn over their wallet, that is robbery. You need not actually fire the gun or harm the victim in any way. The mere act of pointing the gun is enough to put the victim “in fear of imminent bodily injury or death.”
In fact, when a robbery involves the use or exhibition of a deadly weapon, such as a gun, it is actually classified as aggravated robbery in Texas. This is a more severe form of robbery that carries a higher criminal penalty, as we will discuss more in a bit. A robbery can also be classified as aggravated when the victim is a disabled person or someone over the age of 65.
So to summarize, burglary is when someone enters a habitation or non-public building with the intent to commit another crime; theft is when you unlawfully take someone else’s property, and robbery is when you threaten or physically injure someone in the course of taking their property. Another way to look at is that all robbery involves theft, not all theft involves robbery, and burglary may involve both.
How the Law Punishes Theft
With all of this background, we can now look at the actual penalties for each type of crime. On its own, theft can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony based on the value of the property taken. At the lowest end, theft of less than $100 in property is a Class C misdemeanor. At the highest end, theft of $300,000 or more in property is a first-degree felony. In between, the general ranges of theft-based offenses go like this:
- Class B misdemeanor: Theft of between $100 and $749 in property.
- Class A misdemeanor: Theft of between $750 and $2,499 in property.
- State Jail Felony: Theft of Between $2,500 and $29,999 in property.
- Third Degree Felony: Theft of between $30,000 and $149,999 in property.
- Second Degree Felony: Theft of between $150,000 and $299,999 in property.
There are some caveats and exceptions to these ranges. For example, if you seal someone’s driver’s license, that is considered a Class B misdemeanor. If you have a prior theft conviction, you may be prosecuted at a higher level in any subsequent theft case. And some specific types of property are subject to different range values, including cattle and livestock and certain precious metals.
In terms of punishment, here is the maximum prison sentence and/or fine you can expect to face at each level of charge:
- Class C misdemeanor: No jail time, fine of $500.
- Class B misdemeanor: 180 days in county jail, fine of $2,000.
- Class A misdemeanor: 1 year in county jail, fine of $4,000.
- State Jail Felony: 180 days to 2 years in state prison, fine of $10,00.
- Third Degree Felony: 2 to 10 years in state prison, fine of $10,000.
- Second Degree Felony: 2 to 20 years in state prison, fine of $10,000.
- First Degree Felony: 5 to 99 years (or life) in state prison, fine of $10,000.
How the Law Punishes Burglary and Robbery
The penalties for burglary largely depend on the type of property involved. Burglary of a habitation is a second-degree felony. Burglary of any other type of building is a state jail felony. This means that if you commit burglary against a house, you could theoretically get up to 20 years in prison, versus no more than 2 years if the burglary involved a commercial store.
In fact, it is possible to be charged with a first-degree felony–which carries a possible life prison term–if the burglary involves a habitation and the defendant entered the property with the intent to commit a felony other than theft. In other words, if you enter someone’s home with the intent to rape or kill them, prosecutors can charge you with the harshest non-capital felony charge available under Texas law.
With respect to robbery, the base offense is a second-degree felony. Aggravated robbery is a first-degree felony. Again, the difference between the two offenses can be something as simple as brandishing a gun during the robbery.
Defending Yourself Against a Burglary or Robbery Charge
As you can see, a burglary or robbery charge can lead to serious prison time. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Galveston criminal defense attorney if you are facing such allegations. Depending on the facts of a given case, there may be multiple possible legal defenses available.
For example, if all the prosecution can prove is that you entered someone else’s private property without their consent, that is considered criminal trespass–a misdemeanor–but not burglary. Burglary always requires proof of the defendant’s intent to commit a theft or some other felony.
So if you need legal advice regarding a burglary, robbery, or theft case, contact attorney Mark Diaz today to schedule an initial consultation.