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What's the Difference Between Burglary and Robbery?

The terms "burglary" and "robbery" are often used interchangeably to talk about theft crimes. And although each offense may involve theft, they are actually separate crimes. What distinguishes one from the other is the alleged offender's intent and actions while engaging in the conduct.

Understanding Burglary

Iowa Code 713.1 generally defines burglary as an act committed when someone enters a structure with the intent to commit a crime while there. The intended offense could be theft, but it could also be assault or any felony.

For a person to be charged with burglary, they must have:

  • Entered an occupied structure that was not open to the public and did not have the right or permission to do such;
  • Entered after hours a structure that's normally open to the public; or
  • Broken into an occupied structure

In Iowa, there are three degrees of burglary (first, second, and third). Each degree is separated into actual and attempted burglary (when the offense was intended but not completed).

First-degree burglary occurs when someone enters or remains in an occupied structure and they:

  • Have an explosive or incendiary device on them;
  • Have a dangerous weapon on them; or
  • Intentionally or recklessly cause bodily injury to anyone else

Second-degree burglary is committed when a person enters or remains in an unoccupied structure and they have an explosive, incendiary device, or dangerous weapon on them. Or, when they enter or remain in an occupied structure, but they are not armed with a weapon, and they do not cause bodily injury.

Third-degree burglary is any offense that does not fall under the definitions of first or second degree.

Understanding Robbery

Robbery is different from burglary in that it's defined under Iowa Code 711.1 as being committed only when a person intends to commit theft under certain circumstances. Thus, intending to commit an assault or any other felony is not considered robbery.

For an act to be considered a robbery, the alleged offender must have:

  • Assaulted another person;
  • Made another person fear serious injury; or
  • Threatened a forcible felony against another person

Iowa has two degrees of robbery. First-degree involves causing or attempting to cause serious injury or being armed with a dangerous weapon. Any other offense is considered second-degree robbery.

Examples of Burglary and Robbery

To better understand the differences between burglary and robbery, it might be helpful to provide examples of each.

Suppose Lenny and Richard arrive at a school after it has been locked up. The two break into the building and load up their van with laptops and drive off.

In this example, Lenny and Richard may be accused of committing third-degree burglary because they entered an unoccupied structure after hours. They weren't armed, and they didn't cause injury to anyone.

Now take this example: As a school is letting out, Christian walks into the parking lot and approaches one of the students. He brandishes a firearm and threatens to harm the student unless she gives him her laptop. Christian's actions would be considered first-degree robbery because he threatened to cause injury to the student.

Both burglary and robbery are considered serious offenses. Depending on the circumstances, burglary can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. Robbery, on the other hand, is always a felony.

If you've been accused of a crime in Des Moines, contact Branstad & Olson at (515) 329-3100 for the effective defense you need.

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