Theft, Robbery, and Burglary: What’s the Difference

theft and property destruction

The terms theft, robbery, and burglary are often used interchangeably in everyday conversations, but in the eyes of the law, they have distinct differences.


While theft involves simply taking someone's property without permission, robbery involves the use of force or the threat of force to steal. Burglary, on the other hand, typically involves unlawfully entering a building with the intent to commit a crime inside, often theft.


A criminal defense lawyer, such as those at Kolsrud Law Offices, can help you understand the differences between each charge and how they may apply to your case. Whether you have been accused of theft, robbery, burglary, or a combination of these offenses, seeking legal representation early on can make all the difference  in the outcome of your case.


person shoplifting from mall

Theft Law

In Arizona, theft is defined by the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) §13-1802 as the unauthorized taking, use, transfer, control, or appropriation of property or services with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of such property or services permanently.


The elements that constitute theft under Arizona law include:


  • Control or Taking: Exercising unauthorized control over someone else's property.
  • Intent to Deprive: Having the intention to deprive the owner of the property permanently.
  • Conversion: Using or converting someone else’s property for unauthorized purposes.
  • Misrepresentation: Obtaining property or services through false pretenses, fraud, or deceit.


These elements must all be present for an act to be considered theft under Arizona law. 


Types of Theft

  • Shoplifting: This type of theft involves taking merchandise from a retail establishment without paying for it. Shoplifting is specifically addressed under ARS §13-1805 and can range from minor infractions involving low-value items to more serious offenses depending on the value of the stolen goods.
  • Embezzlement: Embezzlement occurs when a person who is entrusted with money or property appropriates it for their own use. This type of theft is often seen in employment and corporate settings, where employees misappropriate funds or assets for personal gain.
  • Auto Theft: Also known as grand theft auto, this involves the unauthorized taking of another's vehicle. Auto theft is a serious crime and can lead to significant legal penalties under Arizona law.
  • Identity Theft: This form involves stealing someone else's personal information to commit fraud or other crimes, such as opening credit accounts or obtaining services in the victim's name. Arizona has specific statutes addressing identity theft, underlining its severity and the broad range of activities it encompasses.
  • Fraudulent Schemes: This category includes a range of deceptive practices aimed at unlawfully obtaining money, property, or services, such as writing bad checks, credit card fraud, and other scams.

Penalties for Theft 

The penalties for theft under Arizona law can vary widely. For property valued under $1,000, the theft is generally considered a misdemeanor, punishable by fines, restitution, and up to six months in jail.


However, as the value of the stolen property increases, the charges escalate to felony levels, which can carry sentences of several years in prison, substantial fines, and more severe restitution requirements.

robbery charges


In Arizona, robbery is legally defined as the forcible taking of property from another person through the use of force, violence, or intimidation, as per Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) §13-1902. This crime is more severe than theft due to the element of force or threat:


  • Force or Coercion: Essential to robbery, this involves using physical strength or threats to obtain property directly from someone else.
  • Fear: The act must induce reasonable fear in the victim, either of bodily harm to themselves or others.
  • Immediate Presence: The property must be taken directly from the person or presence of the victim, differentiating robbery from other theft-related offenses.
  • Intent: The perpetrator must intend to permanently deprive the victim of their property through force or intimidation.


Penalties for Robbery 

In Arizona, the penalties for robbery are severe and are designed to reflect the serious nature of the crime, which involves both theft and assault. The specific penalties depend on the type of robbery committed—simple robbery, aggravated robbery, or armed robbery—as defined under the Arizona Revised Statutes.


  • Simple Robbery (ARS §13-1902): This is considered a class 4 felony. Conviction can result in up to 3.75 years in prison for a first-time offender. However, the sentence can increase significantly for those with prior convictions or when certain aggravating factors are present.
  • Aggravated Robbery (ARS §13-1903): This involves the commission of robbery with the assistance of one or more accomplices actually present. Aggravated robbery is classified as a class 3 felony, carrying a potential prison sentence of up to 8.75 years for first-time offenders.
  • Armed Robbery (ARS §13-1904): This is the most serious form of robbery and occurs when the perpetrator or an accomplice is armed with a deadly weapon or a simulated deadly weapon. Armed robbery is a class 2 felony, with penalties for first-time offenders ranging up to 12.5 years in prison.


In addition to prison time, individuals convicted of robbery in Arizona may face fines, restitution to the victims, community service, probation, and a permanent mark on their criminal record, which can impact future employment, housing, and personal relationships.


The exact sentence will depend on various factors, including the circumstances of the robbery, the defendant’s criminal history, and the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors.

burglary charges

Burglary Charges

Burglary, as defined under Arizona law, involves entering or remaining unlawfully in a residential or non-residential structure or enclosed space with the intent to commit theft or any felony. This crime is categorized into different degrees, each reflecting the severity of the offense and the circumstances surrounding it:


  • Third-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1506): This involves unlawful entry into or remaining in a non-residential structure or in any fenced commercial or residential yard with the intent to commit theft or any other felony. It is typically classified as a class 4 felony.
  • Second-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1507): This crime entails unlawfully entering or remaining in a residential structure with the intent to commit theft or another felony. Second-degree burglary is considered a class 3 felony, indicating a higher level of seriousness due to the invasion of residential property.
  • First-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1508): This is the most serious form of burglary and occurs when the offender commits either second or third-degree burglary while knowingly possessing explosives, a deadly weapon, or a dangerous instrument. First-degree burglary is a class 2 felony when involving a residential structure and a class 3 felony when involving a non-residential structure.


Penalties for Burglary 


In Arizona, burglary penalties vary by the offense's degree, each carrying significant legal consequences under the Arizona Revised Statutes:


  • Third-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1506): Classified as a class 4 felony, it can result in up to 3.75 years in prison for first-time offenders, alongside fines and restitution.
  • Second-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1507): A class 3 felony, with potential penalties including up to 8.75 years in prison for those without prior convictions, plus fines and probation.
  • First-Degree Burglary (ARS §13-1508): The most severe, treated as a class 2 felony for residential structures and class 3 for non-residential. It can lead to up to 12.5 years in prison for first-time residential burglary, with enhanced penalties for carrying weapons.

Beyond immediate penalties, a burglary conviction may result in a permanent criminal record, affecting future opportunities. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the difference between theft and robbery?

    • Theft involves taking someone else’s property without their permission and with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Robbery also involves taking property, but it is characterized by the use of force or fear to obtain the property directly from another person. The key difference is the element of force or intimidation in robbery, which is not required for a charge of theft.

  • How are burglary charges different from charges of theft and robbery?

    • Burglary involves unlawfully entering a building or other premises with the intent to commit a crime inside, typically theft or another felony. Unlike theft and robbery, burglary does not necessarily involve taking property but rather the unauthorized entry into a structure with a criminal intent. The key differences between theft and burglary lie in the intent to commit a crime upon entry, rather than the act of taking property itself.


  • Can you be charged with burglary for entering a building without taking anything?

    • Yes, you can be charged with burglary if you unlawfully enter a building with the intent to commit a crime, even if nothing is actually taken. The crucial factor is the unauthorized entry combined with the intent to commit a crime inside, which differentiates burglary from other property crimes.


  • What constitutes petty theft, and how is it punished?

    • Petty theft, often referred to as petty larceny, involves the theft of property below a certain value threshold, typically less than $1,000. This threshold can vary by jurisdiction. Petty theft is usually classified as a misdemeanor and can result in fines, probation, and up to six months in jail, depending on the state’s laws and the specifics of the case.

  • What does it mean to commit a theft without entering a building?

    • Committing a theft without entering a building can refer to various forms of theft, such as shoplifting, pickpocketing, or auto theft, where the perpetrator takes another person’s property without their permission but does not unlawfully enter a structure to do so. These acts still constitute property crime, though they do not meet the criteria for burglary, which requires unlawful entry.

  • Are there any key differences between larceny and theft?

    •  Larceny is often used interchangeably with theft and generally refers to the unauthorized taking and carrying away of someone else’s personal property with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently. In many jurisdictions, larceny and theft are considered the same offense, although the terms may be used differently based on local legal definitions.

  • What does "intent to commit a crime" entail in the context of burglary charges?

    • "Intent to commit a crime" within the context of burglary charges means that the individual entered a building or other premises with the purpose of committing an unlawful act, typically theft or another felony, once inside. This intent is a critical component of burglary charges and must be proven for a conviction to occur.

  • How does the law differentiate taking property with and without the owner’s permission?

    • Taking property without the owner’s permission constitutes theft or larceny and is illegal, leading to criminal charges. Conversely, taking property with the owner’s consent is not considered a crime, provided the consent was freely given and based on full understanding. The law differentiates these scenarios based on consent, intent, and the circumstances under which the property was taken.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Josh Kolsrud from Kolsrud Law Offices brings a wealth of experience in handling criminal cases, including those involving theft, robbery, and burglary.


With a background as a prosecutor and extensive trial experience, Josh understands the intricacies of criminal law. He can provide strategic defenses and work towards minimizing the impact of criminal charges on your life. His firm is committed to offering personalized legal assistance, ensuring clients' rights are protected throughout the legal process​​.


For legal assistance or to schedule a free initial consultation with Kolsrud Law Offices, contact us today at 602) 638-3790.  


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Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication



Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients



Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.



As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

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