Both robbery and burglary very often involve a similar element – that of theft, or taking something that doesn’t belong to you.
Robbery is theft using force, intimidation, or the threat of force to do it. You have to have a human victim and must take something from them, even if they are merely holding it for someone else. Usually, people think of bank robberies – while the bankers aren’t holding onto the money for themselves, and it doesn’t belong to them, it is in their possession and is their responsibility. Robbery can range in punishment, particularly if a deadly weapon is used. For robberies, guns usually spring to mind. But, you can still be charged and convicted with robbery with a deadly weapon, even if the gun you are using is not real. The only thing the court cares about is if the person you aimed the gun at thought it was real, and acted accordingly.
Burglary very often also involves theft, but it is not a crucial element that has to be proved in order to get a conviction. Burglary typically only involves a defendant entering a structure (or dwelling) with the intent to commit a crime once inside. Usually, that crime is theft – but it can also be to start a fire (arson), or do drugs. People do not have to be in the structure or dwelling in order for it to be a crime, unlike the crime of robbery, where a person that is a victim is a required element to the crime. Burglaries can occur in almost any kind of structure. It does not have to be a home or business. Therefore, even natural formations like caves, or temporary locations like mobile homes, cars, or even tents, can all fall within the purview of burglary. Burglary is often associated with the crime of ‘breaking and entering,’ but oddly enough, you do not have to break anything when you enter. Breaking into a home simply means that you got in without invitation or permission from the owner of the structure – even if they left a window or a door open. To that end, the law does not require someone fully entering into the structure to be arrested or charged with burglary. Simply sticking an arm to take something from inside (such as an open car window) would be enough.
So – which crime is more serious? Well – as in everything in law – it depends. Robbery always involves another human as a victim, and in that sense, can be quite serious. In most instances, robbery is prosecuted as a felony (always), and it usually has different degrees of severity. Burglary can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, and each state in America has differing definitions and degrees of burglary.
Burglary is a crime that has changed over the years – in fact, the common law definition required the act to take place at night. It is a difficult crime to prosecute, as it goes to the intent of the defendant, rather than robbery, which is pretty easy to ascertain what happened on the face of the actions. There must be an intent to commit a crime – simply entering into a home uninvited is not burglary. Certain evidence can go towards a conviction of burglary: if the defendant entered the home with drugs on his person, that is a good indication that he was intending on committing a crime in the house. Obviously, if he picks up an object and starts to leave with it, that could also be burglary. If he kidnapped someone, and planned on sexually assaulting them in the structure, that could also be burglary. Because of all these factors, burglary is prosecuted very differently across the country. If you are ever faced with a charge of burglary, getting a lawyer who has practiced in that particular state and county could be crucial to a good defense.