If you have been arrested for a property crime, you may be confused when the arresting officer mentions that they will determine whether to charge you with theft or robbery. Since the terms are frequently used interchangeably, you may wonder whether there is any difference between the two.

According to the law, theft and robbery are different, and it is crucial to understand their differences. While both offenses involve taking someone else’s property without permission, there are significant legal distinctions and penalties, and understanding them is imperative. Keep reading on to find out more!


Theft in house

Theft, also called larceny, is defined under the California Penal Code 484 as the unlawful taking of someone else’s property without their permission with the intent to keep it for themselves permanently. Theft can include shoplifting, stealing someone else’s bicycle, or fraudulently obtaining property or services. In theft, the property owner is not directly confronted when the perpetrator is stealing.

There are two types of theft in California depending on the value of items stolen, namely:

  • Petty theft – Petty theft is charged when the stolen property is valued under $950.
  • Grand theft – Grand theft is charged when the stolen property is valued at more than $950 or is a firearm or an automobile, as per California Penal Code 487.

The two categories of theft attract different penalties in California. A petty theft crime is charged as a misdemeanor with a maximum prison punishment of six months or a maximum fine of $1000. Grand theft, conversely, can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony and can carry up to thirty-six months in jail or a fine of up to $10,000.


ATM Robbery

Under California Penal Code 211, robbery is taking personal property from someone against their will by using force or intimidation or threats to use force. Unlike theft, robbery is a more severe crime involving using force to take someone’s property. For example, using physical force to snatch a purse or holding someone at gunpoint to steal their car is classified as robbery. Robbery is a crime against a person and is charged as a felony without exception in California.

According to California law, robbery is punishable depending on the degree of the crime:

  • First-degree robbery- First-degree robbery is a crime perpetrated against a driver or a passenger of any fare-based vehicle used in transporting persons, a crime committed in an inhabited house, or a crime perpetrated using an automated teller machine or within the vicinity of the ATM.
  • Second-degree robbery – Second-degree robbery is any other kind of robbery.

First-degree robberies can result in a prison sentence of up to nine years, while second-degree robberies have a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Key Differences Between a Theft Crime and Robbery

There are several key differences between theft and robbery in California, as discussed below:


The most significant difference is that robbery involves using force or intimidation, while theft does not. In a theft crime, there is no violence or threat of violence, and the perpetrator often tries to avoid a confrontation with the victim. On the other hand, robbery typically involves a confrontation with the victim using force.


Theft is a crime against property, while robbery is a crime against a person being robbed of their property.

Presence of Victim

While one can commit a theft crime without physical interaction between the perpetrator and victim, robbery involves a victim being subdued by force or fear.


Another key difference is the severity of the penalties. Both theft and robbery can result in jail or prison time, but the penalties for theft are less severe and can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, as per the circumstances. In contrast, robbery is considered a felony, and the penalties are significantly higher, especially if it involves using a weapon or results in injuries to the victim.

Contact the Experienced Los Angeles Theft and Robbery Attorney Today

If you are facing a theft or robbery charge in California, look no further than the experienced Los Angeles theft and robbery lawyer at the Kosnett Law Firm. We can help you navigate the system and protect your rights. Contact us today to schedule a consultation free of charge. We can discuss the details of your case and work towards achieving a favorable outcome for you.

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