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Robbery, Burglary, and Theft: What is the Difference?

If you are facing charges for a crime that involves allegations that you took something that did not belong to you, you are likely facing robbery, burglary, or theft charges. These terms can be easy to confuse because they often are used interchangeably in popular culture when it comes to describing a situation in which someone is accused of stealing something. However, it is important to know that these three terms have very different meanings under Illinois law and define three distinct offenses. It is also important to be clear about the differences among these terms because those differences can mean a shift from a misdemeanor offense and little (or no) jail time to a conviction for a felony offense that involves a prison sentence.

We want to clarify the distinctions among these terms and the different penalties associated with each offense. 

Defining Robbery in Illinois

Of the three offenses—robbery, burglary, and theft—robbery is the most serious. Under Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/18), robbery is defined as when a person “knowingly takes property, except a motor vehicle . . . from the person or presence of another by the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force.” A couple of the key terms or phrases here are: 

  • Knowingly takes property; and
  • By the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force.

To be clear, robbery is not the offense that gets charged when a person is accused of taking property from a person’s bag that is left unattended, or even when a person is accused of breaking into an empty house and stealing property. Robbery is a more serious offense that involves force or the threat of force. It is a Class 2 felony offense in most cases, but it can be charged as a Class 1 felony if a person is accused of committing the crime against a person aged 60 or older, against a person with a physical disability, or in a facility such as a school or place of worship.

You do not need to have a weapon to be charged with robbery. If you do have a weapon and use it to threaten, the charge can be elevated to aggravated robbery. 

Learning More About Burglary in Illinois 

Burglary is less serious than robbery but more serious than many types of theft charges. Under Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/19), burglary is defined as a situation in which a person “without authority . . . knowingly enters or without authority remains within a building [or other structure] . . . with intent to commit therein a felony or theft.” The keywords or phrases here are:

  • Knowingly enters or remains in a place without authority; and
  • Intends to commit a felony or theft.

Burglary is a Class 3 felony offense.

Theft in Illinois

Theft often is considered to be the least serious of the three offenses, but it is important to keep in mind that theft can range from a misdemeanor to a serious felony. 

There are multiple ways in which a person can commit theft, but it is generally defined under Illinois law (720 ILCS 5/16) as a situation in which a person obtains the property of another person or exerts control over the property of another person without authorization or by threat. Depending upon the amount of property alleged to be stolen, theft can range from a Class A misdemeanor offense (theft of property worth $500 or less) to a Class X felony (theft of property worth more than $1,000,000).

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Skokie

Criminal charges for robbery, burglary, or theft should all be taken seriously. If you need assistance building a strong defense in your case, a Skokie criminal defense lawyer can help. Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan Minkus today.

For Over 33 Years

Senior Partner Jonathan Minkus has successfully defended individuals charged with every conceivable criminal offense, from traffic misdemeanors to death-penalty eligible homicides.

We urge you to contact us for a FREE, confidential, initial consultation.

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