Difference Between a Robbery and a Theft

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What is the difference between a robbery and a theft?

difference between a robbery and a theft
difference between a robbery and a theft

We tend to refer generically to “theft” as any type of theft of objects. Thus, we tend to say that someone “has stolen from the supermarket” when they put a couple of products in their backpack, but this is not technically correct, as we would be talking about a theft.

Difference between theft and robbery

The difference between the two figures is very simple. Theft consists of the stealing of someone else’s property without using violence, force or intimidation. Therefore, it includes all kinds of actions such as, for example, taking someone’s wallet in the subway without them noticing, taking food from the supermarket without paying for it and even entering a house and appropriating objects inside, always and when no door or window has been forced.

On the other hand, a robbery consists of appropriating the property of others using force (forcing or breaking doors, windows or any other means of access), violence (physical) or intimidation (verbal or gestural). It includes behaviors such as breaking a window and entering a property to steal property, pointing a gun at someone, or yanking a purse and running away.


According to article 234.1 of the Penal Code, thefts will be punished with prison terms of 6 to 18 months if the value of the stolen exceeds 400 euros.

If it did not overcome it, we would be facing a minor crime of theft and the expected penalty would be a fine of 1 to 3 months, according to art. 234.2 CP.

Likewise, the penalty will be from 1 to 3 years in prison when one of these nine cases occurs (art. 235 CP):

  • 1.º  When things of artistic, historical, cultural or scientific value are stolen.
  • 2.  When it is about essential things and causes a shortage situation.
  • 3.º In the case of conduits, wiring, equipment or components of electrical supply infrastructures, hydrocarbons or telecommunications services, or other things destined to the provision of services of general interest, and serious damage is caused to the same.
  • 4.º In the  case of agricultural or livestock products, or the instruments or means used to obtain them, provided that the crime is committed on agricultural or livestock farms and serious damage is caused to them.
  • 5.º  When it is of special gravity, taking into account the value of the stolen effects, or damages of special consideration are produced.
  • 6.º  When it puts the victim or his family in a serious economic situation or it has been done by abusing his personal circumstances or his situation of helplessness, or taking advantage of the production of an accident or the existence of a general risk or danger to the community that has weakened the defense of the victim or facilitated the commission of the crime with impunity.
  • 7.  When the offender had been enforceable convicted of at least three crimes included in this Title, provided they are of the same nature. Canceled records or that should be canceled will not be taken into account.
  • 8.º  When minors under the age of sixteen are used for the commission of the crime.
  • 9.  When the guilty or guilty participate in the facts as members of an organization or criminal group that is dedicated to the commission of crimes included in this Title, provided that they are of the same nature.

The Thefts

As article 237 CP indicates, there are three types of robbery crimes: with violence, with intimidation or with force.

Robberies with Force

Robberies with force consist of violating or using “force” on things to access the place where they are guarded and steal them. It can be a house, a vehicle, a safe and a long etc. Article 238 CP indicates the different actions that can be committed to commit a crime of robbery with force:

  • 1st  Escalation.
  • 2.  Breaking of the wall, ceiling or floor, or fracture of the door or window.
  • 3.º  Fracture of closets, chests or other types of furniture or closed or sealed objects, or forcing of their locks or discovery of their keys to steal their content, either at the place of the theft or outside it.
  • 4.  Use of false keys. “False key” is understood as the lock picks or similar objects, the legitimate keys lost by the owner or obtained by means that constitute a criminal offense, and any other than those used by the owner to open the broken lock.
  • 5.  Disuse of specific alarm or guard systems.

These crimes are punishable by penalties of 1 to 3 years in prison (art. 240.1 CP), although it can amount to 2 to 5 if any of the cases of art. 235 (art. 240.2 CP) or if it is committed in an inhabited house (art. 241 CP).

Robberies with violence or intimidation

As the name suggests, these crimes are committed by using violence or intimidation on people to seize property.

These crimes are generally punishable by penalties of 2 to 5 years (art. 242.1 CP), although it amounts to 3 years and 6 months to 5 years if this violence or intimidation is committed in an inhabited house (art. 242.2 CP).

It can also be reduced to penalties of 1 to 2 years in prison, depending on the degree of violence or intimidation used (art. 242.4 CP).

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