The general definition of a theft crime is the following: a person intentionally takes another’s personal property without the latter’s consent with the intent to deprive the latter of the property’s value. For example, suppose someone left their computer on a desk. If another person passes the desk, takes the computer, and later sells it, the latter has committed theft. In the example, the thief intentionally took the computer without consent with the intent to deprive the owner of the computer’s value by selling it to someone else. This category of theft crimes covers a broad area of criminal law. The terminology “theft crimes” is an umbrella terminology used to describe crimes such as robbery, burglary, embezzlement, fraud, shoplifting and auto theft. This article will look at robbery and burglary.
While jurisdictions differ, the general elements of robbery are the following:
Thus, for the elements of robbery to be met, a person must have the intent to deprive someone of the stolen property. Further, the taking must be from the other person, as in a purse snatching, or in their presence, like stealing someone’s wallet off the counter when they are watching. The taking must be without permission of the owner. Lastly, there must be some force or threat of force used by the perpetrator to take the property. This force can include the use of a deadly weapon or the taking of a purse out of someone’s hands. If there is some force, the degree of that force does not matter. Similarly, the threat of using a gun, or the threat of bodily harm also meets this element.
While these elements may seem remarkably similar to the elements of theft, there are differences. There are two main differences between a robbery and a general theft crime. First, with a robbery, the property must be taken directly from the person or in their presence. Secondly, with a robbery, force or threat of force must be used. For instance, take these two examples:
One example is theft, specifically grand theft auto. The other is robbery of a vehicle. Which is which? Example 2 contained the two “extra” factors belonging to the crime of robbery – stealing in the presence of and through use of force or threat of force. In Example 2, the car is stolen in the presence of the owner, who is threatened with a gun. In Example 1, the owner is not present when the car is stolen, and no force or threat of force is used. The individual picks the lock and hotwires the engine. Thus, Example 2 is a robbery and Example 1 is the grand theft auto. [Though in Example 2 the individual could still be charged with grand theft auto].
A robbery is generally considered a felony. Further, there are different degrees of robbery, depending on the level of severity – typically the level of force used. For example, a robbery with the use of a deadly weapon is known as an armed robbery. The penalties for these more severe robberies are higher than ones without these factors.
While jurisdictions differ, the general elements of burglary include:
The element of “breaking” means that there must be some force used to enter the home, such as breaking a window, or picking the lock on the front door. The “breaking” does not have to be destructive – merely opening an unlocked window satisfies the element. Historically, if a burglar were able to enter a building via an unlocked window or door, this would not satisfy the elements of the crime of burglary. The entry could not have already been provided for, like an unlocked door. However, most states have moved away from this rule; and thus, both types of entry satisfy the element. “Entering” refers to the fact that the “burglar” must have physically entered the premises somehow. Further, the “breaking and entering” must have been done without the consent of the owner of the dwelling. There can be no break-in if consent exists. This could also be satisfied if the entry is gained through misrepresentation. For example, suppose someone tells a resident they are the maid of the apartment block and that they were hired to clean the apartments. Unknown to the resident, the person is not a maid, but rather a burglar. If the resident gives permission to enter their home, then this entry is “constructive breaking” and the breaking and entering element is still satisfied.
The premises, the second element, must be a house or other residence of another person. One cannot be a burglar in their own house. While the common law focused on places zoned for human habitation (houses, apartments, etc.), modern law has expanded the application of burglary laws to any building, whether they are used for human habitation or for business. Moreover, historically, there was an element that the burglary took place at night. However, many jurisdictions no longer follow this restriction. A burglary can occur in both the day and night. Lastly, one must break and enter a dwelling with an intent to commit a felony inside. Some states have lessened this requirement to only the intent to commit a crime inside, but others have retained the requirement of an intent to commit a felony.
For example, suppose someone breaks into a house when the owner is not home. The person wants to burn down the house. They open an unlocked window on the first floor and enter the house. The house is burned to the ground. That person can be charged with burglary because they broke into the house without permission through the window. Further, they broke into the house with the intent to commit a felony – arson.
Burglaries are usually classified as felonies. And, just as with robberies, there are different degrees of burglary, depending on certain factors present, such as the degree of violence.
Federal Robbery and Burglary Laws
Generally, theft crimes like burglary and robbery fall under state law. However, there are rare situations where such crimes are covered by federal law, specifically, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 103. [18 U.S. Code CHAPTER 103—Robbery and Burglary] Federal law applies when the criminal act occurs on federal land; involves the taking of federal property; involves an invasion into federal property; or involves an attack on a federal employee or federal official. For example, when a person commits a robbery on land owned by the federal government, federal law, not state law, would apply.
Several sections of Chapter 103 focus on robbery laws.
In conclusion, robbery and burglary are generally crimes covered by state law, not federal law. There are varying degrees of both crimes, with certain extraneous factors increasing the prison sentence for such felonies, including life imprisonment and the death penalty. However, federal law has carved a small section in these two crimes. It generally covers:
Thus, when one is faced with charges under the federal law for robbery or burglary, it is always important that their attorney be familiar with the federal laws, not just the state robbery and burglary laws.