What’s the Difference Between Robbery and Theft?

Criminal laws are written carefully to distinguish the seriousness of someone’s actions. The distinctions are sometimes very slight but can make a significant difference in a court of law regarding sentencing. One example is the statutes of robbery and theft.

Non-lawyers generally view robbery and theft as being the same offense, and in the broadest sense, they have similar elements in that they both involve taking money or something else of value from another person without their consent. However, the two crimes differ fundamentally — one involves stealing through violence or the threat of violence, while the other does not.

Understanding the elements of robbery and theft is essential if you are ever accused of stealing in Texas. Read on to learn about the differences between these offenses and what they might mean if you should face a conviction.

What Is Robbery?

Robbery occurs when someone takes something of value from another while intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to that person or intentionally or knowingly threatening harm or making someone feel like they are in imminent danger of harm.

Under Section 29-02 of the Texas Penal Code, the item of value can be money, but it can also be another piece of tangible property, such as a valuable document or even something that’s intangible in nature. Robbery under this section of the statute is considered a second-degree felony. Depending on the circumstances of a case, a conviction could result in two to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Texas law also includes the crime of aggravated robbery, which falls into Section 29-03 of the Texas Penal Code. Aggravated robbery is defined as a robbery that involves the use of a deadly weapon. A crime is also considered aggravated robbery when the victim who is harmed or threatened is either over the age of 65 or a disabled person who is not able to protect themselves.

Aggravated robbery is categorized under Texas law as a first-degree felony. A conviction under the statute carries a sentence of five to 99 years in prison and, depending on the circumstances, could result in a life sentence. A judge can also impose a maximum $10,000 fine.

What Is Theft?

Theft is a broad term under the laws against property crime that can be part of a range of other offenses in addition to robbery, such as burglary, criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and arson.

Under Section 31-03 of the Texas Penal Code, someone commits theft when they unlawfully appropriate property to prevent the property’s rightful owner from using or enjoying that property. The theft statute defines unlawful appropriation as taking the property without the owner’s effective consent.

Under the law, the severity of the theft will be determined by variables such as how the property was stolen, from whom, how much it was worth, and the circumstances leading up to the theft at issue. Even minor thefts can result in significant criminal punishments.

Generally, the greater the value of the property stolen, the more severe the punishment may be. For instance, a theft of money or property valued at over $300,000 is classified as a first-degree felony, also punishable by five to 99 years. However, thefts of smaller amounts may also be characterized as lesser offenses, such as Class A, Class B, or Class C misdemeanors. Punishments for those typically involve a small fine or jail sentence.

Other Statutes Involving Stealing

In Texas, a number of other statutes cover specific situations that involve elements of robbery and theft but can include separate, specific criminal charges. How these are handled under the law depends on the circumstances of the situation. Here are a few examples:


Under Texas law, shoplifting is defined as taking something of value from a store, retailer, or merchant. This can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the cost of the item and whether force was involved. For instance, shoplifting an item valued at under $100 is a Class C misdemeanor, but if the item is over $300,000, the charge becomes a first-degree felony.

Theft of a Firearm

Taking a weapon from its owner is another theft-specific crime in Texas law. This offense is a state jail felony with a potential punishment of six months to two years in jail. Penalties get stiffer if the stolen weapon is used in commission of another felony.

Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle

The act of borrowing someone’s car and then refusing to return it to the owner, for any reason, is considered unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. This offense is also considered a state jail felony, carrying a penalty of six months to two years in jail.

Credit and Debit Card Abuse

Taking someone’s credit or debit card and then using it to purchase items of value can lead to charges of credit card abuse or debit card abuse. This is also a state jail felony, with a potential penalty of six months to two years in jail.

Potential Defenses to Theft and Robbery

The legal professionals in the Law Office of Case J. Darwin understand the significant differences between theft and robbery. As a former prosecutor, Case will understand the circumstances of your case and work closely with you to develop a proper defense.

Every case is different, but one of the most common defenses is that you did not believe that you were stealing the item from the person — that the whole matter is a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Similarly, you could show that you borrowed the item from your acquaintance.

Depending on the charge that’s filed, you may be able to show that the evidence does not prove the elements of the crime. For instance, the charge of fraud requires a showing that you misrepresented yourself to commit the theft, and you may be able to show that you did not misrepresent yourself.

For Quality Representation

As a criminal defense lawyer, Case Darwin understands the impact of being charged with a crime. Under our system of justice, the state of Texas owns the burden of providing the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt. Our team will work hard on your behalf to hold the state to its burden of proof or seek a proper resolution of the charges against you. Let the Law Office of Case J. Darwin fight for your rights. Call for a consultation or contact us online today.


Theft by Henry Liu is licensed with CC BY 2.0

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