Client Questions Answered: What is the Difference Between Theft and Burglary

When you hear the words, “theft” and “burglary,” do they seem like they should mean the same thing? If so, then you aren’t alone in your thought processes. While there is an underlying theme that is the same in that both theft and burglary involve the taking of items that don’t belong to the person charged or that they don’t have permission to possess, there are important differences that must be appreciated. This is especially true if you or someone you love has been charged with theft or burglary.


In general, a charge of theft against you means that you’ve taken some sort of property that is not yours to take. Theft doesn’t involve any personal contact or interaction during the commission of the crime. Shoplifting is often charged as theft. Certain crimes involving deception and/or fraud are sometimes included in this criminal category as well.

Sometimes also called larceny, the crime of theft can be divided into two different types: petty and grand. A petty theft is one that the value of the stolen property is smaller — usually under $100. Grand theft or grand larceny typically involves items that are valued at more than $100.
While it might make sense that someone charged with petty theft is looking at a misdemeanor, this isn’t necessarily true. Depending on the circumstances, as well as the person’s previous record, even a petty theft could be a felony. Securing the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer is crucial when it comes to fully understanding the theft charges levied against you and their repercussions.


Burglary is when a person enters a residence or a building with the intent to commit a felonious crime or a theft. Like theft, burglary does not require any personal contact. Unlike theft, however, a charge of burglary doesn’t require that any property is stolen in order for a person to be charged with it. Instead, there only needs to be an intent to commit a crime once entry to the building or residence is gained.

Burglary is divided into different degrees depending on the seriousness of the crime. First degree burglary is more serious than fourth degree burglary. If you have been charged with first, second or third degree burglary, then it is a felony. A charge of fourth degree burglary is considered to be a misdemeanor.

In many cases, if you have been charged with either first or second degree burglary, you’ll also be charged with fourth degree burglary as well. A fourth degree burglary charge can also result from being impaired by drugs and/or alcohol and entering the wrong house or building. If you are in possession of what police perceive to be as burglary tools — which can be something as simple as a screwdriver — you can be charged with fourth degree burglary if law enforcement suspects that you have an intent to commit a crime.

Both burglary and theft are serious charges that can affect your life and your employment ability. If you’ve been charged with one of these crimes, secure the services of criminal defense lawyer Jaimee C. McDowell  as soon as possible.