What Is the Difference between Theft and Burglary?

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  • Written By: Renee Booker
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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While often used together to describe a crime, theft and burglary are usually distinct and separate crimes. Each jurisdiction throughout the world, and even within the United States, will have its own definition of theft and burglary; however, common elements are frequently found among statutes for theft and burglary. As a rule, burglary requires the defendant to have entered a structure without permission with the intent to commit a separate and distinct crime, while theft requires a showing that the defendant exerted unauthorized control over the property of another person.

One reason that the crimes of theft and burglary are commonly associated with each other is that the separate crime often required in order to convict a defendant of burglary is frequently theft. It is important to understand, however, that a burglary can be committed without a theft, and a theft may be committed without a burglary. Theft, alone, is usually a significantly lesser crime than burglary.

Most burglary statutes require three basic elements: entering a dwelling, building, or structure; entering unlawfully or without permission; and entering with the intention of committing a crime, usually a felony. Burglary may usually be charged at varying levels of severity depending on factors, such as whether a weapon was used, what structure was entered, and what crime the defendant intended to commit. Theft is often the intended crime and, while it is a serious crime, does not usually elevate a burglary to a higher level, as would rape, for instance.


Theft, like burglary, can also be charged in a number of ways as a rule. Traditionally, theft was charged when a defendant exerted unauthorized control over physical property, such as money or personal property. Auto theft is another common theft charge. In the digital age, a new type of theft has emerged — identity theft. A person's identity, just like his or her money, is considered property and, therefore, can be the subject of a theft.

When a perpetrator enters a dwelling, building, or structure without permission and with the intention of exerting unauthorized control over the property of a another person, is when theft and burglary co-mingle. The predicate offense required for burglary does not need to be theft. Often times the crime that the perpetrator intended to commit was another crime, such as rape or vandalism. Theft, however, is often the intended purpose of the burglary, which is why the two crimes are frequently thought of together.


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