What Is The Difference Between Theft, Burglary and Robbery?
In Florida, the term “theft” covers a broad swath of property-related crimes. However, not all theft crimes are created equal – and the law treats theft itself as separate and distinct from related crimes like burglary and robbery.
Here, we will break down the three major Florida property crimes - theft, burglary, and robbery - and the relevant penalties and defenses for each.
Under Florida law, theft is a general term that includes crimes such as larceny, stealing, misappropriation, and conversion. In general, a theft crime involves the unauthorized taking or use of someone else’s property.
In order to successfully charge you with theft, a prosecutor has to prove that you specifically intended to take or use someone’s property with, as the law states, the intent to “permanently deprive” them of it. In other words, if someone granted you permission to borrow something temporarily and you took it with the intention to return it to them, no theft has occurred.
Charges and Penalties
The type of theft will determine the level of the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Your penalties will also vary based on the value of the property.
The two main types of theft under Florida law are grand theft and petit theft. In order to be charged with grand theft, the prosecutor must prove the following:
- The stolen property was valued at $100,000 or more (maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000);
- The property was valued between $20,000 and $99,000 (maximum of 15 years imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines); or
- The property was valued between $300 and $19,999, or it was a firearm, a motor vehicle, a commercially-farmed animal, a fire extinguisher, any amount of fruit consisting of 2,000 or more pieces, a stop sign, construction signs, or anhydrous ammonia (maximum five years in prison and a $5,000 fine).
For petit theft, the State must prove:
- The property was valued between $100 and $299 (maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine); or
- The property was valued at less than $100 (maximum of 60 days in prison and a $500 fine).
Enhancements and Defenses
Your charge can be enhanced in several circumstances. First and foremost, if you’ve been charged with first-degree grand theft for a crime in which you used a motor vehicle to carry out the crime (other than using it as a getaway car), you may face aggravated penalties. Additionally, you may face enhanced penalties if you’ve been prosecuted for first-degree grand theft when you caused more than $1,000 in damage to the property involved.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can work to reduce your penalties or even to negate one of the elements of the crime itself. First and foremost, if the defense attorney can prove that you believed (honestly and in good faith) that you had ownership rights to the property, you may be acquitted. This can apply when your attorney proves that the property’s owner gave you consent to take or use it. Additionally, your attorney may be able to prove that you were involuntarily intoxicated at the time of the crime, which would reduce your culpability.
Robbery is a type of theft crime that involves the use of force or threat of force to take property from another person. The force element is essential to proving that you robbed someone. For instance, stopping someone on the street, flashing a gun, and demanding his money is a form of robbery, but quietly following and pickpocketing someone is not (this would be simple theft, as you are not using force or the threat of force).
As with theft, a key element in proving robbery under Florida law is intent: The prosecutor has to prove not only that you took someone’s property, but that you had the requisite intent to deprive that person of it permanently.
Charges and Penalties
Charges will vary based on the extent to which you use force in carrying out the crime:
- Robbery without a deadly weapon: Charged as a second-degree felony (up to 15 years in prison)
- Robbery with a deadly weapon: Charged as a first-degree felony (up to life in prison)
- A home invasion with or without a deadly weapon: Charged as a first-degree felony (up to life in prison)
As with theft, your defense attorney can attempt to reduce your charge or negate one of the elements of the crime. For instance, your attorney can prove the property was yours when you took it, or that the person from whom you took the property gave you consent to take or use it.
Under Florida law, burglary is a property crime that involves the entry or occupation of another person’s premises with the intent to engage in unlawful activity. The premises must be a dwelling, structure, or conveyance under the law. A dwelling is a building where someone lives. A structure is an outbuilding like a garage or shed. A conveyance is a structure not designed for living, like a car, ship, trailer, or boat.
To charge you with burglary, the State has to prove that you entered the property with a specific intent to do something illegal. A prosecutor must also establish that you entered without permission or that you overstayed your welcome.
Charges and Penalties
Burglary is a felony in Florida and may be charged in the first, second, or third degree.
- First-degree burglary: Applies if you used a motor vehicle to destroy the structure of if you caused more than $1,000 in damage to it (up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine)
- Second-degree burglary: If you did not use a deadly weapon or commit an assault or battery when you entered the structure (a maximum of fifteen years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000)
- Third-degree burglary: If you did not use a deadly weapon or commit an assault or battery, and if the occupants of the dwelling were not present at the time you entered (imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000)
As with theft and robbery, a skilled defense attorney can craft a compelling defense on your behalf. Some of the common defenses for burglary include the following:
- The owner of the premises consented to your presence there;
- The premises were open to the public; and
- You lacked the necessary intent to commit a crime within the structure.
If you’ve been charged with a theft crime, it is important to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the process and to craft a strong defense on your behalf.
At Salnick & Fuchs, we are equipped to present a compelling defense on your behalf. Please contact us if you have any questions about the law or if you’ve been charged with a property crime.