Imagine arriving home some evening only to find that your house had been broken into and thousands of dollars of electronics, jewelry and artwork had been stolen. Your family was not at home, and the people appear to be long gone. Have you been the victim of a burglary, robbery or theft?

People often use words like burglary, robbery and theft interchangeably. From a legal perspective, however, they refer to different crimes with quite different penalties. If you or someone you know has been connected to such a crime, you may want to seek out the assistance of a certified criminal law specialist, like a theft lawyer who can help you understand these terms and help you know how to respond.

 Burglary. Although definitions for these crimes vary slightly by state, burglary typically occurs when a person illegally enters a building (usually a home or a business) with the intent of taking money or property from someone or to commit a felony. Burglary could be a felony (a crime that carries at least 1 year in prison), depending on factors, such as: the type of crime that the burglar planned to commit inside the building; whether the burglar was armed; and whether the building was occupied.

Robbery. Robbery generally takes place when a person, through the use of force or intimidation, seizes money or property directly from someone without their permission with the intent of keeping the money or property. For robbery to occur, a victim must be present and the person committing the crime must use violence or threaten to use violence. For example, if a person uses a gun or knife to secure money from another person, the charge will almost always be robbery. In most states, robbery is always a felony that results in hefty fines and/or lengthy prison sentences.

Theft. Theft (called “larceny” in some states) tends to cover a broad range of crimes, from shoplifting candy to stealing a car to identify theft, fraud or embezzlement. It does not require a victim to be present or a building to be entered. Still, penalties can be quite severe, depending on the value of the stolen property.

Burglary, robbery and theft are serious charges. Consider seeking out a certified specialist like those at the Morales Law Firm to help you understand the charges brought against you, your legal rights and how to best proceed.