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Is There a Difference Between Theft, Robbery, and Burglary in Pennsylvania?

Most people use the words “theft,” “burglary,” and “robbery” somewhat interchangeably. While this is fine for casual conversation, there are significant distinctions between each of these offenses that make them distinct criminal offenses. If you were arrested for stealing, it’s important to understand exactly what charges you face. In this article, our Philadelphia theft defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Lloyd Long will explain how these offenses are different and go over the possible penalties for robbery in Philadelphia, as well as burglary and general theft offenses.

How are Robbery and Burglary Different from Theft?

These crimes are all commonly classified as “theft,” but this is not always accurate. While robbery can be considered a type of theft, it is usually classified as a violent crime instead of a property crime. Similarly, while people consider burglary a theft crime, you can actually commit burglary without thinking about taking anything. Our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers explain the differences:


Theft is simply the crime of taking something that doesn’t belong to you. The traditional name for this kind of theft is “larceny.” In Pennsylvania, theft can be committed a few different ways, such as by using deception, unlawfully carrying something away, or by using extortion. There are also specific statutes for theft from a motor vehicle, theft of services, and unauthorized use of an automobile.

Because theft does not involve interacting with the victim, it is usually considered a “property crime.” If you were charged with theft as a college student, our theft defense lawyers for Temple students and college students can help.


Robbery is sometimes called “theft plus,” because it usually involves a theft with an additional factor that involves force or violence. Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3701, theft becomes robbery when it has one of the following additional elements:

  • Infliction of “serious bodily injury”
  • Threats of violence
  • Threats of another crime
  • Putting another in fear of harm
  • Taking property directly from another person “by force however slight”
  • Stealing from a bank by talking to or writing a note to a bank worker

In short, a robbery is a theft which specifically involves some sort of force, assault, or intimidation. An additional statute (18 Pa.C.S. § 3702) is devoted solely to robbery of a motor vehicle, sometimes called carjacking.

Because robbery involves force or violence, it is usually considered a “violent crime” instead of a property crime.


Burglary in Pennsylvania is defined under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3502 and specifically involves entering a building or another piece of property “with the intent to commit a crime therein.” While the other crimes more clearly punish stealing, you can commit burglary without taking anything. The focus here is violating someone else’s home or property by trespassing with the intent to commit another crime.

Because of the way this stature is written, you can actually commit burglary by trespassing with the intent to commit:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Theft
  • Other offenses

Burglary has 3 built-in defenses which prevent you from being charged:

  • The building was abandoned – if there’s no one there to bother by trespassing, it isn’t burglary.
  • The property was public property – everyone is usually allowed to access public property.
  • You were “licensed or privileged to enter” – you can’t burglarize a location you were invited to enter, like a friend’s house or an open store.

Whether the burglary charge sticks or not, you can also be arrested and convicted for any other offense you commit once you are inside the premises. However, you cannot be sentenced for both the burglary and the other crime unless the other crime is a first- or second-degree felony. Otherwise, the DA has to choose which one to request sentencing for.

Burglary and Robbery Information

Theft covers taking a very wide range of both tangible and intangible objects. Theft might involve stealing a physical item (like a purse or a bike), a service or utility (like cable or internet), or simply valuable information (like another person’s identity, or a company’s trade secrets).

Depending on the nature of the alleged offense involved, theft grading runs the gamut from a third-degree misdemeanor to the first-degree felony. Thus, a defendant who is convicted of theft might be facing anywhere from one to 20 years in prison, and fines ranging from $2,000 to $25,000. The final sentence depends on the type and value of the property involved, among other factors. For instance, theft is automatically a second-degree felony if the property stolen is a firearm or if the value of the stolen items is at least $100,000 but less than $500,000. If you received an item that was stolen, you may still be charged and may benefit from retaining a Philadelphia receiving stolen property attorney today.

Depending on the circumstances, robbery can be graded as a third-, second-, or first-degree felony, with more severe penalties applied to higher degrees of violence or harm. Burglary also varies in grading, with harsher penalties applying for burglarizing a house while people are home. Overall, theft offenses are generally worse crimes when there is contact with the victim, serious harm, gun possession, or use of a firearm.

Philadelphia Robbery, Theft, and Burglary Lawyers Offering Free Consultations

If you or someone you love has been arrested for theft at the University of Pennsylvania or elsewhere, Philadelphia burglary defense lawyer Lloyd Long can help. To schedule a free, private legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long today at (215) 302-0171.