Houses Cannot Be Robbed, and Gitarzan

Okay, I saw it again last night. An author, obviously in a confused state of mind, wrote a scene where the victim’s home was robbed. No. NO. A thousand times NO!

Robbery and burglary are not the same. The two have entirely different meanings. The two crimes are totally different. Again, they are not the same. Not even close. Not. The. Same.

I’ll explain again, so please, my dear friends, take notes. Write this down somewhere. Make a mental note. Use a pocket knife to scratch the words deep into your dining room table top. Paint it on your walls. Erect a sign in your yard. Do whatever it takes to help you remember this…

Robbery occurs when a crook uses physical force, threat, or intimidation to steal someone’s property from them. If the robber uses a weapon the crime then becomes an armed robbery, or aggravated robbery, depending on local law. There is always a victim present during a robbery.

For example, you are walking down the street whistling a romantic Metallica tune, when a tall, dark, and severely ugly guy approaches, brandishing a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He demands your money. That’s robbery. The bad guy forced you to hand over your hard-earned cash. You were scared and intimidated. You were one-on-one with the robber. Face to face. You saw him and he saw you. You were fairly certain that he would do something bad to you if you didn’t hand over your wallet. This was a stick up. A holdup. THIS WAS A ROBBERY, AND THE GUY WHO TOOK YOUR CASH WAS A ROBBER.

Burglary is an unlawful entry into any building with the intent to commit a crime. Normally, there is no one inside the building when a burglary occurs. No physical breaking and entering is required to commit a burglary. A simple trespass through an open door or window, and the theft of an item or items, is all that’s necessary to meet the requirements of burglary.

For example, you are out for the night and someone breaks into your home and steals your television. That’s a burglary. Even if you are at home asleep in your bed when the same crime occurs, it’s a burglary because you weren’t actually threatened by anyone. Also, the bad guy didn’t take the item directly from you. There was no face time with the TV thief. He slipped in, grabbed the flat screen, and then slipped away into the night. This guy is a burglar. He did not use threats or intimidation. You weren’t scared of him because you didn’t know he was there.

Another example. You park your car in the lot at the local PigOut Grocery And Underwear Emporium. You lock your car doors and go inside to pick up a jumbo jar of pickled pigs feet, a bag of barbecue flavored Funyons, and a pair of those Horton Hears A Who BVD’s you’ve been saving for. When you return to your car you see this…

Your car was NOT robbed. It was a burglar who broke in and stole your entire Weird Al and Ray Stevens CD collection, and the brand new Elvis on black velvet portrait you’d bought to hang over the greasy stain on the wall above the hide-a-bed in your mom’s basement.

So, have you got it now?

Just in case, one last review.

Houses, stores, cars, trailers, RV’s, boats, scooters, bobsleds, tricycles, skateboards, and other inanimate objects CANNOT be robbed. People are robbed. Robbers steal directly from people.

Houses are burglarized. Burglars break in or sneak in, and steal.

Besides, how silly would it be for a robber to point his gun at your house or car and say, “Stick ’em up!”

Now, until your CD’s are returned…

22 thoughts on “Houses Cannot Be Robbed, and Gitarzan

  • Kris

    Thanks, Lee! Excellent way to explain things. From someone whose vehicle was burglarized (Nothing to steal but a radio that didn’t work. HA!) And some dweebs’s attempt at robbery was foiled when I punched the guy in the face….LMAO What a way to start a morning; PigOut Grocery and Horton Hears a Who!!!

  • Jill James

    Thanks, Lee. My husband (retired cop) says this all the time. I don’t think anything irks him as much as this.

  • Marni Graff

    Excellent clarification! I will share this with my writers group, Lee!

  • Carolyn Hughey/K.T. Roberts

    Thanks, Lee. This clarification will forever be ingrained in my brain.

  • Bud Crawford

    What if somebody took the front door?

  • E.S. Abramson

    Hi Lee, what category would this fall under? I hired a mover to move my artwork from Missouri to New Mexico. Instead of delivering the paintings to me, the mover stole them. Would this be a robbery or a burglary? Or is there another category for this?

  • Dave Swords

    Rest assured, Lee, that no one who reads the Graveyard Shift will ever write a story about a detective who goes to investigate a house robbery and immediately smells cordite in the air! :)

  • Lee Lofland

    E.S. – Neither. Based on what you’ve told me the movers were guilty of theft. It the dollar amount of the property meets the state requirement for grand larceny, then that would be the charge. It’s not robbery because they didn’t take the artwork directly from you by force, threat, or intimidation (you gave it to them willingly for the purpose of transporting). It’s not burglary because they didn’t break into your home or business to steal it.

  • Dave Swords

    If I may. E. S., that would be a theft. Keep in mind that laws vary from state to state, but generally, you describe a theft. Which, depending on the value of the items, can be a felony.

  • Lee Lofland

    Bud – That’s larceny. Now, if they entered the home during the night to take the door off its hinges, well, that’s B&E with intent to commit larceny of the door.

  • Les Edgerton

    Another one that isn’t so bad and varies from state to state are the “degrees” of burglary. Don’t know how it is these days, but when I was “in the life” we had two degrees of burglary–first and second. First degree applied to the “house creepers” and second degree applied to those who broke into businesses. The sentences were vastly different. First degree felons got ten and a quarter sentences (10-25), while second degree folks got either a 1-10 or a 2-5. (My own sentences was a 2-5 for a single burglary, plea-bargained down from 183 burglaries, a count of strong-armed robbery, two counts of armed robbery, and a single count of possession with intent.) I was a second-degree burglar for a couple of reasons. One, the sentences were so much harsher for first-degree. The reasoning behind it was that there might be a person in the home at the time of the burglary and that put them at risk. (I guess they never figured there might be folks around in bars at night…) Second, there was never anything in houses that had much value, ordinarily. A used TV you’d get a hernia in carrying out, some tape deck or whatever. That was hard to sell anyway as the pawn shops are all on alert for stolen merchandise and not as easy to deal with as movies would have one believe. Movies would have straights believe there are fences everywhere you could throw a rock and that’s just not so. In a bar or liquor store or other business, there was usually the next day’s change and often that day’s receipts. There was booze that could be loaded up and moved much easier (and without the hernia) than somebody’s outdated TV. House burglaries are also usually the province of druggies and “real” criminals don’t really think of those guys as criminals much–usually some suburban punk kid trying to supplement their allowances from Daddy and trying to act like some kind of outlaw… Plus, there’s just a negative cachet to being labeled as a “house creeper” that any self-respecting criminal doesn’t want applied to him.

    Plus, business burglaries, especially bars, used to be fairly easy. You could be in and out very quickly, and bartenders usually “hid” the money in the same places–in the dirty towel bin or in a trash can, covered by a towel or a sheet of paper or trash. 80% of the time that’s where it was…

    Plus, it was always funny to watch the minds of straights. Those folks who put all these great locks on doors and windows. We used to admire those… while we took a crowbar and broke through the dry wall on the side of the building… Or, the cheapskates who stuck up those “Protected by ADC” or some security service… but forgot to complete the lie by at least putting up some dummy wires from the building.

    Sorry! Didn’t mean to romanticize this! But as a writer who lived on the other side, I see so many things that are too funny in a lot of books and even more in movies and television.

  • Lynn C. Willis

    Trust me – as an old newspaper reporter and publisher, I made that mistake only once in a front page above the fold headline. GCSD ingrained the difference in my blonde head and I’ve never forgotten it. :)

  • Laura Castoro

    Thanks for Ray Stevens, too.

  • Andrea

    NOOOO!! Not the Ray Stevens CDs!!

    Ha! This is a fabulous and fun description of the difference between the two. If this doesn’t make it stick in a person’s head, they’re hopeless. :-)

  • GunDiva

    Lee, you make me smile :)

    But stealing Ray Stevens CDs, that right there ought to be its own crime!

  • Glenn Ickler

    During my long years as a newspaper editor I taught this very thing to many reporters. I only wish I had done it as creatively as you.

  • Amy Denton

    In other words, inanimate objects can not be robbed but they can be burglarized. Correct?
    Thank you for the post.

  • Lee Lofland

    Robbers rob people.

    Burglars burglarize property.

  • Sylvie

    Great explanation. I would say there’s an exception, though. If the scene is in the POV of someone who’s not familiar with the law enforcement definitions of burglary and robbery and says they were robbed, then it suits the character’s knowledge base. Having a dispatcher teach you the difference while someone is breaking into your house is not the right time :-). Yeah, that really happened (before I started writing suspense).

  • Lee Lofland

    This is not merely a case of law enforcement’s definition. These are the legal definitions, and they’re the basis on which criminals are charged and sentenced. There’s no such offense as “robbing a house.” Likewise, you will not find one person in prison who was charged and found guilty of robbing a house. Why not? Because that offense does not exist.

  • J.D. Rhoades

    In North Carolina, burglary is even more specific. It’s
    1) Breaking and/or entering
    2)Into an OCCUPIED dwelling.
    3) At night.
    4) With the intent to commit a felony therein.

    Any other housebreaking (say into an empty house or during the day) is Breaking and Entering.

  • Lee Lofland

    Pretty much the same in Virginia. How often have you seen the daytime B&E reduced to trespassing, if ever?

Comments are closed.