Stealing, Robbery, and Burglary: What is the Difference?

Stealing Robbery and Burglary What is the difference

Stealing, robbery, and burglary may sound like similar offences, but they have different meanings and legal implications. It is important to understand the differences between the three offences and the different penalties and charges. 


Under the law, the charge of theft refers to stealing something under specific circumstances. Stealing also includes offences such as larceny, embezzling, extortion, theft or robbery. These stealing offences are classified according to how and what was stolen. Part 4 of the Crimes Act 1900 governs stealing and similar offences. Stealing can be dealt with as a summary or indictable offence, depending on the offence’s nature and the property’s value.


According to Section 73 of the Crimes Act 1958, theft or stealing refers to the circumstances where the accused appropriated property belonging to another and did so to permanently deprive the victim of the property, and they acted dishonestly in doing so. 


Stealing is thus the dishonest or fraudulent taking of something that belongs to another person, and the person does so without intent to return it. The property must be movable, and it must have some value. The property must belong to someone else, and it must be taken, and the taking must be without the agreement of the owner of the property. 

Stealing is the intent to:


  • Permanently deprive the owner of their property
  • Use the property as security
  • Hold conditions against the owner about the return of the property when the owner cannot meet these conditions
  • Deal with the property in such a manner that it cannot be returned in the condition in which it was at the time it was stolen
  • Stealing and using another person’s money even if the offender intended to return it at a later stage
  • Eat food in a supermarket without paying for it
  • Shoplift
  • Pickpocketing a wallet
  • Take money from your employer

Stealing also includes instances where a person finds something of value and decides to keep it without intending to find the owner to return the property. This is seen as larceny by finding.


What is not considered stealing?


It is not considered stealing if the item is taken for a temporary purpose. It is not considered stealing when a person takes an item by mistake. If the person believes they are legally, not just morally, justified in taking an item, it is not considered stealing even though their belief might be wrong. 



Penalties for Stealing



The maximum penalty for stealing is five years imprisonment or three years imprisonment if the matter is resolved in the Magistrates Court. The maximum penalty increase to 10 years’ imprisonment when:



  • The property was stolen from a motor vehicle
  • The stolen item is property, and the value exceeds $5,000.00
  • The property was stolen from a dwelling, and the value exceeds $1,000.00 or was taken with a threat of violence
  • There is a relationship between the offender’s position in a company and the stealing
  • A firearm is stolen

A maximum penalty of 14 years in prison can be imposed if the firearm is stolen with the intent to commit an indictable offence.


Available Defences for Stealing


Some of the possible defences for stealing can be:


  • The property or item was not capable of being stolen
  • The owner gave consent to the accused
  • The accused assumed they had the consent of the owner
  • The owner abandoned the property or item

Robbery and burglary are crimes that carry serious sentences upon conviction in NSW, Australia. 


Robbery is where an act of theft is committed immediately before or after the threat of force or use of force on someone else. The perpetrator threatens or uses force to take another person’s property or to escape from the scene of the crime. Robbery is thus the use or threatened use of violence or coercion to facilitate an act of stealing. 


Robbery is said to occur when a person steals anything and, immediately before or after the act of stealing, threatens or uses violence to the person or property to obtain the item or to prevent or overcome resistance to its being stolen.


Stealing becomes robbery when violence or the threat of violence is used when stealing an item. 


The following elements have to be present before, during, or after the robbery:


  • The offender takes property from a person
  • The offender does not have consent from the person to take the property
  • The offender uses force, coercion, or threats on the victim at any point during the theft
  • The offender creates fear in a victim with the threat of immediate violence or force
  • The offender used force or the threat of force to commit the theft

Aggravated Robbery


The term “aggravated” in criminal law means that there is a factual circumstance alleged by the police. This makes the charge of aggravated robbery more serious than the robbery charge. The penalties for an aggravated offence are harsher when the circumstances of the aggravation are taken into account. However, at least one of the circumstances of aggravation must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be considered an aggravated offence. 

It is important to note that the circumstances of aggravation do not create separate offences. Robbery and aggravated robbery are still the same offence. The difference between aggravated and not aggravated is that the maximum penalty is increased when aggravating circumstances are presented. 


“Aggravated robbery” according to Section 95 of the Crimes Act 1900 is:


  • “Whosoever robs, or assaults with intent to rob, any person, or steals any chattel, money, or

valuable security, from the person of another, in circumstances of aggravation, shall be liable to imprisonment for twenty years.

  • In this section “circumstances of aggravation” means circumstances that (immediately before, or at the time of, or immediately after the robbery, assault, or larceny) involve any one or more of the following:

(a) the alleged offender uses corporal violence on any person,
(b) the alleged offender intentionally or recklessly inflicts actual bodily harm on any person,
(c) the alleged offender deprives any person of his or her liberty”.


Penalties for Robbery


The prosecution has to, without reasonable doubt, prove that the force is directly related to the theft for a charge of robbery to be imposed. If force cannot be proved, the offender may be charged with assault alongside theft instead. 

Imprisonment is the most likely sentence for robbery or aggravated robbery. The maximum penalty for robbery is 1,400 penalty units, 14 years’ imprisonment, or both. When robbery is elevated to aggravated robbery, this sentence can be as high as 2,500 penalty units or 25 years’ imprisonment or both, with a minimum period in custody of 7 years. 


The penalty for robbery can also be increased to life imprisonment if the victim is wounded or harmed during the robbery or if any weapon or instrument is involved. A weapon does not necessarily need to be a gun or knife; it can also be other items used as a weapon, for example, baseball bats, golf clubs, or screwdrivers. The sentence of life imprisonment can also be imposed if the offender is in company with one or more people. 


Possible Defences for Robbery


The defence can use the following possible defences for robbery:

  • The accused acted in self-defence or under duress
  • The accused did not take any property or items from the victim
  • The accused did not intend to steal the property of the victim
  • The accused claims a right to the property


Burglary offences are also referred to as “break, enter and steal” or “unlawful entry” offences. Burglary is when an offender enters a property and then commits or attempts to commit indictable offences in the property. An offender breaks into or breaks the seal of a house or other dwelling or enters without breaking in. 

The term “break in” does not necessarily require a forceful entry; opening a window or door is enough to satisfy this element of the offence. Burglary is different from robbery because the victim does not necessarily have to be present at the time of the burglary. 

Burglary is also a very serious offence and carries a serious penalty under criminal law. An aggravated burglary occurs when the alleged offender is armed with a weapon or instrument and uses violence on the victim. 

Burglary or “break, enter, and steal” is a criminal offence under Section 112 (1) of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). This is a serious and indictable offence and occurs when the accused:

  • Breaks the seal of the property and gains access to the house, or any building or dwelling
  • Enters the premises and
  • Take away property without the consent or knowledge of the owner with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently

Stealing is the most common offence during a burglary. Actions that might constitute burglary are:

  • Breaking into a property to steal an item or items when the property has no one inside
  • Unlawfully entering a business outside operating hours to remove property

However, the crime is committed when the offender commits any indictable offence in the dwelling; this includes assault or murder. An offender can be charged under Section 112 (1) if they commit any serious indictable offence once they have entered the property. This means any indictable offence that has a maximum penalty of imprisonment of five years or more. This also includes assault occasioning actual bodily harm, intimidation, or sexual assault. 

Aggravated Burglary

Aggravated circumstances or special aggravated circumstances under Section 112 (2) and (3) of the Crimes Act are:

  • If two or more people were involved in the burglary
  • The offender enters the home or dwelling through any break
  • If a person or more than one persons were at home at the time of the burglary
  • If the offender inflicts or threatens to inflict actual bodily harm or violence on the victims
  • The offender damage or threaten to damage the property
  • The offender is armed with a weapon or pretends to be armed with a weapon
  • The offender commits an indictable offence in the dwelling or home

If the offender inflicts grievous bodily harm or is armed with a dangerous weapon, special aggravation circumstances will apply.

Penalties for Burglary

Burglary or “break, enter, and steal” attracts serious penalties. Section 112 (1) of the Crimes Act 1900 stipulates an offender found guilty of burglary is generally liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. Under Section 112 (2) and (3) offenders who are found guilty of burglary in aggravation or special aggravation are respectively liable to a maximum of 20 years or 25 years imprisonment. 

The penalty of 14 years imprisonment for burglary increases to a life sentence when the following aggravating elements are present:

Possible Defences for Burglary

Possible defences might be:

  • The accused committed the offence of burglary under duress
  • The accused did not enter the dwelling with the intent to commit a crime
  • The premises entered do not meet the criteria of a house or dwelling
  • Wrongfully accused
  • The accused broke in and entered the dwelling out of necessity to protect themselves from danger

To conclude, stealing can be described as an act when a person unlawfully takes another person’s property without their consent. Stealing becomes a robbery if violence or the threat of violence is used against a victim. A burglary happens when a person enters a home or dwelling to commit a crime. Force may or may not be used for the crime to be considered a burglary. Robbery often accompanies burglary, but if the occupants are not home, the crime would be burglary and stealing and not robbery. 

The offences of stealing, robbery, and burglary are serious criminal offences in NSW. If you or a family member has been charged with these offences you should obtain legal advice about your options from a reputable criminal lawyer. Contact Lyons Law for legal advice today.


  • Mohammad Khan | Criminal Defence Lawyer

    Mohammad Khan is the Principal Solicitor of Lyons Law Group. After graduating with a Bachelor of Aviation from the University of New South Wales, Mohammad took a keen interest in the law. He began training in criminal law under the tutelage of Australia’s leading criminal lawyer Adam Houda and studied law at the University of Sydney.