Robbery and Burglary Aren't Interchangeable Terms in Alabama
On more than one occasion, our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys have heard people confuse the terms “robbery” and “burglary,” or use them interchangeably as if they were the same thing.
The fact is, these are two very different crimes with different possible punishments, depending on the circumstances.
The motive for robbery is always theft. The same often rings true for burglary, but not always. Let's first clarify these two charges.
Simply stated, per Code of Alabama 13A-8-41, robbery is a form of forcible theft. First-degree robbery is a theft committed when one is either armed with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument or causes serious physical harm to another. It's a Class A felony, punishable by up to life in prison. Second-degree robbery, meanwhile, is a form of forcible theft committed with the aid of another person. This is a Class B felony, punishable by between 2 to 20 years in prison. Third-degree robbery is theft wherein physical force or the threat of it is used to overcome any resistance. It's a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Burglary, meanwhile, is a form of criminal trespass, per Code of Alabama 13A-7-5. Both of burglary and criminal trespass involve an action whereby someone enters or remains in a premises, building or dwelling when he or she is not licensed, invited or privileged to do so.
The primary difference between criminal trespass, which is either a misdemeanor or even a simple violation, and burglary, which can be charged as a serious felony, is motive. A criminal trespass charge simply states you were in a place you weren't supposed to be. In order for prosecutors to prove burglary, however, they have to show that you entered that restricted location with the intention of committing another crime. Often, that other crime is theft. However, it might also be sexual assault or vandalism or a host of other crimes.
In order to be charged with burglary, you need not have actually committed the underlying intended offense. It's all about your intention. If during the course of a burglary you are armed with explosives, cause physical injury to someone else who is not a participant in the crime or are armed with a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, you could be facing a Class A felony.
What our attorneys will often try to do, if we can't dispute the fact that you knowingly and illegally entered or remained on the property, we might try to dispute that you did so to commit a crime. This might allow us to get the charge reduced from a felony down to a misdemeanor or possibly even a simple violation.
With robbery, we might also argue intention. Unless the intention was specifically to take the property, you aren't guilty of robbery.
Alternatively, if you didn't use force or threats to obtain the property, you aren't guilty of robbery. Shoplifting items from a store, stealing your co-worker's wallet from her purse or breaking into an unoccupied, locked vehicle to heist the sound system – none of these are robbery. They are forms of theft for which you still could be arrested, but they aren't robbery.
Another possible defense for robbery is that you had a right to the property. If you have an honest belief that the property involved belongs to you – even if it actually doesn't – you aren't guilty of robbery. You might still be guilty of another crime if you use force or fear to take it, but you wouldn't be guilty of robbery.
Finally, a possible defense for both crimes is that you are a victim of mistaken identity or false accusations.