blog home Theft Crimes Burglary vs. Robbery vs. Theft in California

Burglary vs. Robbery vs. Theft in California

By San Diego Attorney on August 10, 2018

Burglary, robbery, and theft are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, California Penal Code separates burglary, robbery, and theft into individual crimes. Each has its own provisions and its own possible penalties. So what are the differences between these crimes?


Burglary is defined as entering someone else’s home, or another person’s property like a business, with the intent to steal or commit a felonious crime. For example, someone who broke into an ex-wife’s home to commit assault would be guilty of burglary even if he did not commit the felonious act. If that person did break into the home and commit assault, he could be found guilty of both burglary and assault.

Another example: if someone broke into a school with the intent to steal computers, she would also be guilty of burglary, even if the school was closed at the time and there was no one else on the property. Under the Penal Code, burglary does not require person-to-person contact, so no one else needs to be involved at the time the crime was committed.

A person can be guilty of burglary in either the first or second degree. First-degree burglary occurs when the building broken into is a residence, or someone’s home. This is sometimes called residential burglary. Second-degree burglary is when the building broken into was not a home. This is sometimes called commercial burglary.

First-degree burglary is a felony under California law. Penalties may include felony, or formal, probation; and 2, 4, or 6 years in a California state prison. Those found guilty of burglary may also be penalized with a fine up to $10,000.

Second-degree burglary is a wobbler crime, meaning the prosecution can use its discretion to charge the crime as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Penalties for a second-degree burglary charged as a felony include felony probation; and/or 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in a county jail. The fine of $10,000 may still be applied. Second-degree burglary that is charged as a misdemeanor can include penalties of a $1,000 fine; up to one year in county jail; and misdemeanor, or summary, probation.

It is important to note that burglary is distinct from breaking and entering in California. To be charged with burglary, a person does not have to break in. He or she may enter through an unlocked door or a window that was left open.


Under California Penal Code, robbery is the act of taking another person’s property. To be classified as a robbery, the theft must involve person-to-person contact and use force.

For example, if someone grabbed a bystander’s purse while walking down the street and showed the victim he had a gun, this would be considered robbery. The concept of “force” during a robbery does not require a weapon to be used, and does not need to include physical violence. Intimidation and coercion can also be considered force during the course of a robbery.

Like burglary, robbery can occur in the first or second degree. First-degree robbery includes any robbery that involved the driver or passenger of a taxi, cable car, streetcar, or other transportation for hire. First-degree robbery is also an act that takes place inside an inhabited house, boat, or trailer, and any robbery that takes place shortly after a person uses an ATM, or while using it. First-degree robbery is a felony under California law. The penalties can include felony probation; 3, 4, or 6 years in state prison; and/or a fine up to $10,000.

Second-degree robbery is any robbery that does not meet the requirements for first-degree robbery. It is also considered a felony. The penalties include felony probation; and 2, 3, or 5 years in state prison. A fine of $10,000 may also be applied if a person is convicted of second-degree robbery.


The definition of theft under the California Penal Code differs from robbery only in that theft does not have to involve person-to-person interaction. One person simply has to take the property of another person regardless of whether or not the owner of that property, or anyone else, is in the vicinity at the time.

The two types of theft in California are petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft is any theft valued below $950, while grand theft is any theft of property valued at more than $950. However, certain items—like a car—even if valued below $950, can qualify for a grand theft charge.

Penalties for petty theft include a fine up to $1,000, up to six months in county jail, or both. When the property stolen is valued at less than $50, a prosecutor may, at his discretion, charge the crime as a misdemeanor or infraction with a fine of up to $250.

Grand theft is a felony in California and penalties include up to one year in county jail. When those convicted have prior criminal convictions, it can increase the severity of the penalties imposed by a judge.

Regardless of whether you are charged with burglary, robbery, or theft, the penalties can be severe. Even “minor” convictions will remain on a person’s criminal record for the rest of his life. If you were charged with one of these crimes, speak to a criminal defense lawyer right away. JD Law handles theft crimes in San Diego, and we can help you with your case, fight for your rights in court, and give you the best possible chance at a successful outcome. For a free consultation, please call (760) 630-2000 today.

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