January 18th, 2024

Burglary vs. Robbery: Understanding the charges

Burglary and Robbery are commonly viewed as interchangeable terms for criminal conduct. There are important legal differences between these two serious charges, however. The first step in a successful criminal defense involves a careful review of the facts in light of the legal requirements for each charge. At Gross McGinley, our criminal defense team is highly experienced in analyzing each case. We will work with you to identify a winning strategy and achieve the best possible outcome.

What is burglary?

At common law, burglary was defined as the “forcible invasion of the right to habitation.”  The essence of burglary is “breaking and entering” with the intent to steal. In Pennsylvania, burglary is defined by criminal statute at 18 Pa.C.S. § 3502. Under the statute, a person commits a burglary if, with the intent to commit a crime, they enter a “building or occupied structure,” whether anybody is present or not.

Burglary is a very serious charge. Depending on the facts, it can be charged as a first-degree felony or a second-degree felony. A felony-one conviction for burglary carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and a $25,000 fine. A felony-two burglary conviction has a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $15,000 fine. It is therefore imperative that you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are charged with burglary.

There are multiple defenses to burglary. For example, the legal definition of burglary requires unlawful entry with the intent to commit a crime. Thus, you cannot be charged with burglary if you had no intent to commit a crime. If there is no proof of intent, your criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate a reduction or dismissal of a burglary charge.

Other legal defenses to burglary involve a showing that the building was “abandoned” or “open to the public” at the time of entry, or that the person was “licensed or privileged to enter.”  Each case presents different facts and therefore a different defense. There is no “one size fits all” strategy in criminal defense.

Our burglary defense lawyers know how to present these defenses and put your case in its best light. When applicable, we can raise them at trial or use them to negotiate a more favorable plea deal. In some cases, we can get the charges dropped. Either way, you have a better chance of a good outcome when you are represented by competent defense counsel.

What is robbery?

At common law, robbery was defined as, “larceny from another by means of violence or threat of violence.”  The essence of robbery is the “removal of property from another by force.”  In Pennsylvania, robbery is defined by criminal statute at 18 Pa.C.S. § 3701. Under the statute, a person commits a robbery if, while committing a theft, they cause or threaten to cause bodily injury or commit a serious felony. 

The grading of the robbery charge depends on the type of bodily harm threatened or caused. Robbery is a first-degree felony if the person (a) causes or threatens to cause serious bodily injury or (b) commits or threatens to commit another first or second-degree felony. It is graded as a second-degree felony if it involves (a) bodily injury or the threat of bodily injury or (b) theft from a financial institution—such as a bank—by oral or written demand. Robbery is graded as a third-degree felony if it involves the physical use of force “however slight.” 

Robbery is also a very serious charge. A conviction for first-degree robbery carries a maximum 20-year state prison sentence. A conviction for second- or third-degree robbery can also result in substantial jail time. Robbery of a financial institution such as a bank can result in federal charges. The use of a “deadly weapon,” such as a gun, during the robbery can result in an increased sentence and fine.

The difference between burglary and robbery

Burglary is the act of unlawful entry into a building with the intent to steal. In contrast, robbery is the unlawful taking of property from another by force or threat of force. Burglary is mostly a property crime, while robbery is a crime against a person. With burglary, the intent is to commit a crime on the premises. With robbery, the intent is to deprive a victim of property by force or intimidation.

Burglary often involves robbery and can result in charges for both offenses. Burglary can be charged even if the robbery is unsuccessful. Robbery and burglary can also be charged as independent, stand-alone crimes. They are both charged as felony offenses and carry serious criminal consequences. Neither charge should be ignored or minimized.

Why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney       

This article provides a basic overview of the similarities and differences between burglary and robbery. It is not intended to provide the detail required for a successful defense. The law in this area is complex. It requires careful study and application to the specific facts of your case.

This is where our firm comes in. If you are charged with multiple offenses, we can negotiate for a reduction in charges to avoid multiple convictions. If your case goes to trial, we can craft a strong defense tailored to your specific situation. We stand by your side and fight for you from start to finish.

If you are facing burglary, robbery, or theft charges in Pennsylvania, our criminal defense lawyers at Gross McGinley, LLP, can help. We’ve built a solid reputation over four decades that you can trust. In addition to criminal defense, we provide a wide range of legal services including litigation, business law, family law, employment law, and more.

To schedule a consultation with a criminal defense attorney at Gross McGinley, contact us or call 610 820-5450.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.