We all know the classic image of a man in a black mask and striped shirt sneaking into a home at night with a big bag, ready to steal televisions and jewelry.
But what is he called again? A burglar? A robber? And what crime is he committing? Burglary? Robbery? What’s the difference?
Burglary and robbery are both property crimes, but slight differences in circumstance and confrontation make burglary and robbery separate crimes in Florida, with different classifications and sentences. Let’s figure out which is which by defining burglary and robbery under state law.
Understanding Burglary in Florida
Burglary is defined in Florida as the unauthorized entry onto another’s premises or residence with the intention to commit unlawful activities. For example, if someone sneaks into another person’s home to commit theft, they have committed burglary.
Burglary in our state is classified as a felony in either the first, second, or third degree.
Third Degree Felony – up to 5 years in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines
Second Degree Felony – up to 15 years in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines
First Degree Felony – up to life in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines
That’s right. Life in prison for burglary charges. But what makes a burglary a first degree felony vs. a second or third degree felony?
Burglary can be charged as a first degree felony if:
- the defendant used a motor vehicle to damage the burglarized building
- the defendant caused over $1,000 in damages to the burglarized building
- the defendant committed assault or battery while committing burglary
- the defendant used a deadly weapon while committing burglary
Second or third degree felonies are reserved for lesser offenses. For example, burglary of an unoccupied vehicle or building is charged as third degree felonies.
There are other elements to burglary that may come up in court and lead to additional charges. For example, while attempting or committing burglary, it is also illegal to cut power or phone lines.
If you committed burglary and used “burglary tools,” you may face additional charges. Burglary tools are any instrument, weapon, or article that could be used to commit burglary (lock picks, hammers, screwdrivers, and so on).
Both the possession of burglary tools and cutting power or phone lines are charged as third degree felonies.
Understanding Robbery in Florida
Robbery is defined in Florida as the act of intentionally taking property or money from another person without their consent by using force, coercion, threat or intimidation.
You do not have to be in a building or dwelling illegally to commit robbery. For example, if you threaten someone to hand over their money on a public sidewalk, you have committed robbery.
Unlike with burglary, there is no robbery in the third degree charge. If you are charged with robbery, you will be facing either first or second degree felony charges.
The difference between the two charges usually relies on whether or not the defendant was using a firearm or weapon to commit the crime. The presence of a weapon will increase charges to a first degree felony. And if you’ll remember from when we were discussing first degree felony charges above, that means you can get up to life in prison.
There are also specific types of robbery: home-invasion robbery, carjacking, and “robbery by sudden snatching.” Each type of robbery involves specific circumstances which can lead to additional charges being filed.
“Robbery by sudden snatching” is the act of committing theft while the victim becomes aware of the theft. If you are trying to sneak money out of a stranger’s purse, for example, the crime may not be considered robbery until the stranger becomes aware of your intentions. This type of robbery can be charged as a second or third degree felony.
Carjacking, as you probably know, is the act of stealing a car. And a home-invasion robbery simply means a robbery committed while unlawfully invading a dwelling or residence. Both are charged as a first degree felony – whether or not a weapon or firearm was used.
Burglary vs. Robbery
There are key differences between burglary and robbery. Let’s look at a few quick examples:
Entering a dwelling or property unlawfully? Burglary.
Threatening or forcing someone to hand over property without consent? Robbery.
Steal a car? Robbery.
Steal a television while the owners of the dwelling are asleep? Burglary.
Steal a television by threatening the owners of the dwelling with a weapon? …Both.
Yes, that’s right. Despite clear differences most of the time, certain crimes can fall under both categories. Especially if the residents of the dwelling are present during the course of the theft and confrontation is involved. You may be charged on multiple counts of property crimes for the same incident.
If you have been charged with robbery, burglary, or any property- or theft-related crime, it is important to get in contact with a Florida criminal defense lawyer immediately.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.