Many people, and even the Santa Cruz Sentinel and other larger newspapers, use the words “burglary” and “robbery” synonymously. This is incorrect. The words describe two separate and different crimes.
The legal meaning of burglary is the “entering of a house [or other structure] with the intent to commit theft.” (California Penal Code Section 459). Burglary does not involve the use of violence or threat of violence to accomplish the theft.
The legal definition of robbery in California is very different from that of burglary. It is defined as “the taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by force or fear.” (California Penal Code Section 211). Robbery necessarily requires violence or threat of force and a confrontation between two or more people, while burglary does not.
To illustrate the material difference between these two definitions, take the case of Milo.
Milo has a bad crack cocaine habit. To fuel his addiction, Milo decides to break into Acme Jewelry Store on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz late at night while no one is inside. Milo breaks into the store, smashes a display case, and steals three Rolex watches. He then runs away with the watches.
Milo is guilty of burglary, not robbery. He did not take the watches from another person, nor did he use violence or the threat of violence. An empty store or vacant house does not get “robbed” it gets “burglarized”.
The misapplication of these very common words is a good reminder that non-lawyers should not perform their own legal work, especially on a matter as important as your own employment.