The Difference Between Robbery and Burglary in D.C.
by Jamison Koehler on November 11, 2009
How many times have you heard someone complain that he or she has been robbed? A person returns home from vacation and finds a backdoor broken and a computer missing. Oh my goodness, dear, we’ve been robbed! A wallet is taken from a gym locker. Someone robbed my wallet!
Technically, the people have not been robbed. They’ve been burglarized in the first instance and the victim of theft in the second.
Robbery is an interesting mixture of two other crimes: theft and assault. Like theft, it involves the unlawful taking of property of another with intent to deprive. Like assault, it involves bodily injury or the threat of bodily injury. Put the two offenses together and you have robbery.
But it is not burglary. Burglary is the entering of a dwelling or some type of structure with intent to commit a crime. In Washington, D.C., if the structure is an occupied dwelling (that is, a home in which someone is present at the time), it is a first degree burglary. Otherwise, it is burglary of the second degree.
It doesn’t matter what the crime is, just as long as the crime is separate from the entry itself. That is, the crime the person intends to commit could not be burglary or unlawful entry.
All of this means that a husband who returns to his own house planning at the time he enters the home to assault his wife could be convicted of burglary. It means that a person who breaks into someone else’s house and who, once inside, decides to take some property could be convicted of unlawful entry and theft. But not burglary.
It is of course impossible for the prosecution to actually prove what the defendant was intending to do at the time he or she entered the dwelling or structure. The prosecution will thus have to prove intent through circumstantial evidence. Was the defendant shouting at the time he entered the house that he was angry and was going to harm his wife? That would be a pretty good indication of criminal intent. Did the defendant have an empty bag at the time he entered a store? That might suggest he was planning to fill the bag with store merchandise.
But I’ve digressed. Back to robbery. A referee makes a bad call in a football game, giving the other side the win. We wuz robbed! Is this in fact robbery? Is the referee guilty of a criminal offense?
Let’s apply the elements to find out. First of all, something of value needs to be taken. The “something of value” doesn’t need to be physical property. A win could be valuable, particularly if a lot of wagers have been made on the outcome of the game. You might therefore argue that the first element has been satisfied.
Second, the taking needs to be “through force or violence.” Hmmmm. Not so good.
Third, the taking needs to be either directly from the person or from the person’s possession. Again, not so good.
The referee might be guilty of bad judgment. Or if deliberately trying to fix the game, the referee might be guilty of some other type of criminal offense. But he is not guilty of robbery.