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What is the Difference Between a Robbery and a Theft?


Often times, people confuse a theft and a robbery as the same thing. Although similar, they involve different tactics and motivations, therefore they are handled differently in a court of law.

Understanding Theft:

Theft is used to cover an array of crimes and many people have fallen victim to theft. Whether this be a friend taking money without permission, a backpack being stolen from a gym locker, or using public transportation without paying for it, all are considered theft.

With that said, the general definition of theft is the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.

Here are five major types of theft:

Petty Theft: This is one of the more common types of theft and it involves stealing small amounts of goods or cash.

Automobile Theft: This occurs when someone takes another person’s vehicle, often called carjacking or grand theft auto.

Extortion: This involves using intimidation or threats of physical harm, oral or written, to obtain property or money from people.

Theft of Services: This refers to when someone receives services without intending to pay for them. Generally, this could be Wifi services or television services.

Identity Theft: This is one of the largest growing types of theft and it involves using someone’s personal information without their knowledge. This can be a variety of things, from their name, credit card, or social security number.


With theft, whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony is highly dependent of the circumstances surrounding the crime. For instance, extortion is charged as a felony in all 50 states, whereas petty theft, which could be as simple as stealing a sandwich from a deli, would be charged as a misdemeanor.

Understanding Robbery:

Similar to theft, someone who commits a robbery also takes and removes personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. However, the major difference is that when someone commits a robbery, they are doing so using “threat of force”. This generally involves a gun or knife and the crime almost always requires the presence of a victim who suffers actual injury, or is threatened with harm.


Depending on the severity of the crime, states commonly separate robbery into different degrees. Generally, someone will be charged with a first degree felony if they used a dangerous weapon or attempts to kill anyone or inflict serious bodily injury during a robbery. Otherwise, in most states, a normal robbery will be charged as a second degree felony.

Although a robbery is usually handled at state level, there are instances where robberies fall under federal jurisdiction. This would be any robbery or attempted robbery of a bank, credit union, or savings and loan institution and robberies involving the stream of interstate commerce, such as hijacking a truck full of goods that are being transported from one state to another.

Charged with a Theft or Robbery?

Whether you have with charged with a theft or a robbery, both have specific elements that must be proven for a conviction. Both crimes involve complexities that are hard to understand and face on your own, but with the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, specific facts can be formed to counter these elements. If you are in the Los Angeles area and are facing theft or robbery charges, call Premier Federal Criminal Defenders today. We will stand with you to protect your freedom. 

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