True, in most cases they do both involve theft. Nevertheless, there’s a reason you’ve never heard the term “highway burglary” used; and though the name may be more phonetically relevant to their product, the McDonald’s character Hamburglar is nevertheless a misnomer. That is, if this is any indication of his typical M.O.
Allow me to explain.
The following are 5 distinct and important legal differences between burglary and robbery:
1. Specific legal definitions of burglary vary, but generally speaking it refers to the willful entry into a structure without permission, with the intent to commit a crime. Note that there is no specificity regarding what that intended crime might be. We’ll clarify this in just a bit.
Robbery is defined as theft of money or property against an individual by force or by threat of force.
2. In a burglary, the victim need not be present, and frequently isn’t. Most burglaries, in fact, are committed with the expectation that the burglar will never be confronted by the victim. Further, theft isn’t always the intent of the burglar for entering the premises in the first place.
Conversely, for a crime to be deemed a robbery, by definition the victim must be present. Without a victim present, in the eyes of the law there can be no robbery.
3. Burglary is judged based on intent. So a person who otherwise has permission to be on the premises is guilty of burglary if it can be proven that their intent for being on the premises at the time was to commit an offense. Even though the person was otherwise authorized to be in the building, their intent for being there was to commit a crime, which constitutes burglary.
Robbery, on the other hand, is based not on intent, but on result. In other words, robbery is only robbery if a theft occurs, else it would be deemed attempted robbery. (It should also be noted, that force must be involved to distinguish the crime from simple theft.)
4. Burglary is referred to as an inchoate offense, which means that the offense was committed in preparation for completion of another crime. As above, the other intended crime need not have been accomplished if it can be proven that the burglar did indeed intend to commit it.
Robbery is considered an end unto itself, in that the sole intent of the offender is the actual crime of robbery, the taking possession or ownership of property to which they are not entitled by force or by threat of force.
5. Burglary can be classified as a felony, dependent upon the perpetrator’s intent for entering the premises. If the intent was simply to commit petty theft, however, the offense would likely only be classified as a misdemeanor.
Robbery is always a felony because it always, by definition, involves force or the threat of force.
So next time someone tells you that their house was robbed, you can say, “I hope it didn’t put up a fight and just handed over its wallet.”