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What is the difference between theft and burglary?

On Behalf of | May 11, 2020 | Criminal Defense

People sometimes use the phrase “five-finger discount” or mention “sticky fingers” to jokingly refer to stealing. Some consider stealing to be nothing more than a harmless prank. 

Taking something that belongs to someone else can, however, have serious consequences. 

What is theft? 

Theft refers to the taking of another person’s property without authorization and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. The type of items stolen, as well as their worth, determines the classification of the theft. 

How does theft differ from burglary? 

Whereas theft focuses on taking someone else’s property without their consent, burglary refers to the unlawful entry into a building or occupied structure with the intent to commit a  crime once inside. The type of structure that the person enters, as well as the time of day, affects the classification of the burglary. 

What is an example of theft versus burglary? 

A man’s neighbor goes on vacation, and he agrees to feed her cats while she is away. He has a key to her house for this purpose, and while he is inside feeding the cats, he helps himself to her laptop. He removes this item and plans to sell it. The man has committed theft. 

A man learns that his neighbor has left for a vacation. He breaks into her home for the purpose of stealing her laptop. The man might or might not actually remove the item. Either way, the man has committed burglary. 

What are some possible defenses for theft cases? 

The accused person’s attorney could claim that when the defendant took the item, this person had a good faith belief that he or she was the rightful owner of the property. As well, the attorney may attempt to establish that the person had become intoxicated and, therefore, was unable to formulate the intent to steal. 

Finally, the defendant may try to demonstrate that he or she had both the intention and ability to return the property at the time of the alleged theft. Generally, the defendant would also need to show that evidence exists to support each of these claims.