You will oftentimes see the Massachusetts crimes of theft, burglary, and robbery being confused or being used interchangeably. While these crimes all involve illegally taking the property from another, these crimes are very different and carry very different penalties.
Generally, these crimes are distinguished by the level of force involved in the taking of property, where the property is stolen, and the manner in which the property is stolen. For example, break into someone’s home at night with a semiautomatic weapon, and you could face life imprisonment charges for armed burglary. On the other hand, steal a cell phone from a classmate, and you could only face monetary fines for petty larceny.
Here’s a closer look at these three crimes and the differences between them:
Theft (also known as larceny) is the least severe of the crimes mentioned. Theft generally consists of three elements:
- That the defendant took and carried away property;
- That the property was owned or possessed by someone other than the defendant; and
- That the defendant did so with the intent to deprive that person of the property permanently.
Depending upon the value of the goods stolen, someone could face either misdemeanor or felony charges for larceny. (M.G.L. c. 266, § 30) Typically, if someone steals property worth more than $250 or a firearm of any value, that person would face a felony charge and a possible five-year prison sentence. Otherwise, someone charged with stealing less than $250 only faces a possible one-year prison term.
Keep in mind that these penalties are enhanced if the victim of the theft is someone 60 years of age or older or a person with a disability.
A burglary is distinguished from a theft in that it is a much more personal attack against someone. For someone to be charged with burglary, that person must break and enter into the home of another, at night, with the intent to commit a felony (usually, the larceny). (M.G.L. c. 266, § 15).
As you can see, unlike a standard larceny, the crime of burglary has very specific requirements including where the crime occurs (at someone’s home) and what time of day the crime occurs (at nighttime). Due to the personal nature of the crime, the penalties for burglary are very severe.
Typically, if the burglar is armed with a dangerous weapon, the burglar could face a possible life sentence or a mandatory minimum ten-year sentence. (M.G.L. c. 266, § 14). If the burglar is not armed, he could face a possible 20-year prison sentence with no mandatory minimum.
Unlike thefts and burglaries, which are considered crimes against property, a robbery is considered a crime against a person.
Generally, a robbery involves the illegal taking of property like a larceny. However, there is the added element of assault, threat of violence, or intimidation in taking the property. (M.G.L. c. 265, § 19). So whereas a victim of a simple larceny may not even be aware that he is being victimized, the victim of a robbery is typically confronted with some form of violence or assault.
Given the violent nature of a robbery, the penalties for this crime are also much more severe than those for theft. And someone charged with robbery could potentially face a penalty ranging from one year to life imprisonment. The exact penalty will depend upon factors like the weapons used (if any), the age of the victim, and even whether the robber wore a disguise. For example, an armed robber wearing a mask faces a mandatory minimum five-year sentence. (M.G.L. c. 265, § 17). However, there are no mandatory minimums for a robber not armed with a dangerous weapon.
Contact an Attorney
If you are charged with a theft, burglary, or robbery, you will want to contact an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney. You can face jail time for each of these three crimes and a conviction can affect you for a lifetime. An experienced attorney can help you explain the charges you face as well as possible defenses.