Are Theft and Burglary Different Crimes?

While theft and burglary may be used interchangeably in everyday conversation, they mean two different things under California law. Both require the prosecution to prove a specific intent to the crime, but what constitutes the crime in question differs. Theft and burglary convictions also have different sentences, ranging from jail time to fines to restitution to victims.

Read more to find out what exactly is the difference between a theft crime and a burglary crime, and how legal representation might play a role in reducing your penalties for each.

What Constitutes Theft?

In California, theft, also referred to as larceny, is a crime against property. To prove theft, a prosecutor must establish the defendant's intent to permanently take or withhold the property owner's possession, or the specific intent to steal. Some examples of theft depending on the type of property in question include theft of:

  • personal property,
  • money,
  • real property, or
  • the value of labor or services.

While theft is commonly understood to occur without the owner’s knowledge, it can also occur where an owner entrusts property to the defendant for a temporary purpose and the defendant consequently fails to return the property.

Grand Theft and Petty Theft

Theft is either classified as petty theft or grand theft in California. The difference between the two depends on the value of the property. It is usually considered grand theft when the property is valued above $950. There are some exceptions, though, such as when the property taken consists of a firearm, for example.

The penalties for grand theft consist of imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year or by felony sentencing permitted by the state. Felony sentencing ranges from 6 months to 3 years, but note that prior criminal convictions can increase the severity of the sentence or require imprisonment in state prison rather than in county jail.

Petty theft, on the other hand, is generally punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, a term of imprisonment lasting up to 6 months, or both. For petty theft of property valued below $50, a prosecutor has the discretion to charge you with a misdemeanor or an infraction resulting in a fine of up to $250. Once again, previous criminal convictions can affect the prosecutor's decision.

Potential defenses against theft could be:

  • Claim of ownership or right of possession
  • Mistake of fact or law
  • Owner's consent
  • Lack of intent to steal

What Constitutes Burglary?

To prove a charge of burglary in California, a prosecutor must show that the defendant entered a property without permission and intended to commit a crime after entering the premises. In other words, similar with proving theft, the prosecutor must show that the defendant entered the premises with the specific intent to commit a crime. Such premises could include:

  • houses,
  • apartments,
  • tents,
  • residential rooms, and
  • businesses.

First-Degree Burglary and Second-Degree Burglary

Note that California state laws establish two types of burglary: first-degree and second-degree. First-degree burglary is any burglary of an inhabited dwelling. During prosecution, an inhabited dwelling is any house, vessel, or other property designed for habitation and currently inhabited at the time of the burglary, even if nobody was occupying the property at the time. Be aware that state law also includes properties abandoned due to a natural disaster or local emergency as inhabited properties.

Any burglary not qualifying as first-degree burglary will be considered second-degree burglary, such as commercial burglary of a business or store.

First-degree burglary is a felony punishable by up to 6 years in county jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine, probation, and restitution to the victim.

Depending on the nature of the alleged offense, second-degree burglary is a “wobbler” offense punishable either as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor conviction calls for up to 1 year in county jail and/or a maximum fine and probation, and a felony is punishable by up to 3 years in county jail or state prison, a fine, or both. You might also be sentenced to probation and asked to pay restitution to the victim.

A burglary with explosives is a more serious felony, with a punishment of up to 7 years in state prison, a fine, probation or parole, and restitution to the victim.

Some examples of possible defenses against a burglary charge include arguing:

  • Permission to enter
  • Lack of intent
  • Innocence
  • Coercion

If you have been charged with theft or burglary, you may be facing potential jail time and fines, at a minimum. However, you also have a chance at reducing your penalties if you have a good defense attorney on your side. For example, an experienced attorney could argue your lack of intent, which might exempt you from the charge. The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch can help you distinguish the difference between your theft charge or burglary charge and fight for your defense.

Contact The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch here to schedule your free initial consultation today.

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