What is the difference between theft, robbery, and burglary?

While there’s a considerable amount of overlap between these three types of offences, they aren’t identical. The fact of the matter is that all three refer to completely different offences.

And with that comes:

  • Different penalties in the event of a guilty verdict
  • Different criteria when evaluating the case
  • Different things the prosecution will need to prove

While it may sound like we’re just being a little pedantic, as with all things to do with the criminal justice system, these small differences can have a large impact on your case.

If you’ve been charged with one of these three offences, it’s important that you understand the distinction – it could impact the likely outcome of your case, as well as your options are.

So, how do these three types of offences differ? Our criminal lawyers in Melbourne explain…


What is theft exactly?

Everyone knows what theft means. From a legal standpoint however, the charge of theft refers to stealing something under a very specific set of circumstances.

Specifically, according to section 73 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), it refers to situations where the accused:

  • Appropriated property belonging to another
  • Did so with the intention of permanently depriving the other of the property
  • Acted dishonestly in doing so

In order for you to be charged with theft, the prosecution needs to present a reasonably strong case that you have ticked all three boxes.

As you can see, it’s a pretty broad definition. And since it’s such a broad definition, there are many different types of theft and related offences…

Our theft lawyers explain theft offences

In addition to robbery and burglary – two separate offences which fall under the umbrella of theft (which we’ll explain in a little bit) – theft also covers a range of other related offences.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, you may be charged with:

  • Obtaining by deception
  • Going equipped to steal
  • Handling stolen goods
  • Receiving stolen goods
  • Shoplifting

In Victoria, joyriding – the act of stealing a car to drive around in – is classified as a type of theft, even if you intend to return the car after you’ve had your fun.

In summation, there are a lot of different additional charges that fall under theft – it isn’t always clear-cut. Our theft lawyers help you understand the charges brought against you, and ensure that your defence is tailored for the charges laid against you.

The penalties for theft

Naturally, the penalty will depend on the circumstances of your case – most theft cases are usually penalised through fines or imprisonment, though some cases resulting in community corrections orders (CCOs).

In Victoria, the maximum penalties are 10 years imprisonment and in most cases, your theft case will be held before a magistrate in the Magistrate’s Court, unless the theft exceeds $100,000 in value or it’s accompanied by other, more serious charges.

In some cases, you won’t even need to appear before court – shoplifting cases in particular may result in an on-the-spot fine of up to two penalty units.

With our expertise, criminal solicitors can argue for a much better outcome, defending you and ensuring you receive an appropriate sentencing options, such as arguing in favour of CCO’s instead of


Our burglary lawyers explain what separates burglary from other types of theft

As we mentioned above, theft is a pretty broad umbrella category, under which a variety of different offences rest – one of which is burglary.

Many people will say that if the accused enters a building, it’s burglary.

Many times however, it isn’t quite as simplistic.

While this works as a general rule, under section 76 of the Crimes Act (Vic), the facts that classify a case of theft as burglary are:

  • Entering a building or part of a building
  • Doing so as a trespasser
  • Entering with the intent to steal or commit an offence punishable by 5 or more years imprisonment, including assault and property damage

Note that in some cases, inhabited vehicles like caravans and yachts count as a “building” in the legal sense.

Related charges

Certain circumstances can elevate your burglary charge, resulting in a more serious case. If these additional circumstances are present, you may be charged with aggravated burglary.

When it comes to burglary specifically, the two most common aggravating factors are:

  • Whether or not you were armed when carrying out the crime (including imitation weapons)
  • Whether you knew (or should have known) that the building would have been occupied during the burglary

In the law’s eyes, these factors make a burglary especially egregious and heinous.

Should the prosecution prove that aggravating factors exist, you may find yourself facing higher penalties should you be found guilty.

Penalties for burglary

In many burglary cases, the case may hinge on whether or not the structure counts as a “building” or not – in deciding whether or not it counts, the court will look at a lot of different factors.

Luckily, the penalties for burglary are more straightforward.

Like theft, burglary carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years – the exact penalty you receive will depend on the circumstances.

In cases of aggravated burglary however, the maximum penalty is raised to 25 years imprisonment.

The key to ensuring that you aren’t hit with the maximum penalty is good legal representation and strategy. The right legal defence, crafted by an experienced burglary lawyer, can ensure that you receive the best possible outcome, and ensure you get a fair result.

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A robbery lawyer explains robbery

What do you get when you take the charge of theft and mix in the threat or actual use of violence against the victim? The answer: robbery.

Just like with burglary, classifying an offence as robbery involves more than just the threat or use of violence – robbery comes with its own criteria that need to be checked off before an accused can be charged with it.

Are the following factors present before, during or after the theft?

  • Using force on any person at any point during the theft
  • Putting any person in fear they will be subjected to force then and there
  • Seeking to put a person in the fear of violence or force
  • The use or threat of force was used in order to commit the theft

That last point is especially important. If the prosecution can’t prove that the force is directly related to the theft – for example, during an attempted escape – they may not be able to charge you with robbery.

(In such a case, you may, for example, be charged with assault alongside theft instead.)

Related charges: what can make robbery charges worse?

Like theft and burglary, there are certain things that when taken into account can make your robbery charge more serious, thereby increasing the potential penalty should you be found guilty.

Under Victorian law, these can include:

  • Committed the robbery with an accomplice, or as an organised group
  • Harming a victim of the robbery, either immediately, during, or after the incident
  • Pretending to be armed with a dangerous or offensive weapon
  • Carrying out the robbery while armed

The last point in particular can result in your charges being upgraded to armed robbery, an offense that carries a heavier penalty.

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t limited to actual weapons, either – anything that can be used to potentially harm the victim including cricket bats and bottles could result in an armed robbery charge.

Penalties for robbery

As a crime where the threat or actual use of violence is inherently “baked into” the description, robbery tends to carry much higher penalties than other types of theft – at the upper end of things, you could find yourself sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment.

In the event of armed robbery specifically, this can be even higher, with any parties found guilty of this offence liable to be imprisoned for up to 25 years.

Both of these are the worst-case scenario – with the right legal defence strategy and representation however, you may be able to avoid the most severe punishment.

Need a criminal lawyer in Melbourne for your upcoming theft, robbery or burglary trial?

Our criminal lawyers in Dandenong are ready to help

While all three of these offences may sound similar, the fact of the matter is that they’re completely separate charges, each with their own penalties and factors to consider when looking at them.

With so many different moving parts, it’s crucial that you leave your case in the hands of an experienced and qualified criminal lawyer.

Our criminal lawyers in Dandenong specialise in all areas of criminal law, including theft, robbery and burglary.

With years of experience presenting these cases, our legal team works hard to ensure that you get a fair outcome, and that your case is backed up by a solid legal strategy that ensures your side of the story is heard.

Get in touch today on (03) 9781 4900, or click here to request a consultation.