We often come across cases wherein people claim that their house was robbed in their absence, which is technically incorrect as the definition of 'robbery' states that it is the act of taking a valuable belonging to someone either by force or by threatening him. This makes the presence of victim mandatory for this crime to qualify as a robbery. If the crime is committed in the absence of the owner of the house, it technically qualifies as a 'burglary'.
In common law, burglary is defined as the act of entering somebody's property with the intention of committing a felony or theft. Whether the motive for which the accused entered the person's property was successful or not seldom matters, as long as the intention was to commit some crime. It need not be a forcible entry, even walking in through an open door with a criminal intent amounts to this crime. In this definition, the word 'property' includes residential premises, workplace, and even automobile. If the person is accused of breaking the window glass of the car with the intention of stealing the briefcase lying inside, it's a burglary.
The charges on which a person can be convicted for burglary can be broadly categorized on the basis of 3 different degrees of burglary, the 1st degree, 2nd degree, and the 3rd degree. The least severe of these 3, is the 3rd degree burglary. A felony or theft is considered 3rd degree burglary when a person enters a non-residential structure illegally with criminal intent. Similarly, when a person tries to barge into a vehicle with the use of duplicate key or master key, with the intent of committing a theft, it can amount to 3rd degree burglary.
The 2nd degree burglary is a bit more severe, but less severe than the 1st degree burglary. An act of burglary can amount to 2nd degree burglary when the person enters a residential structure with the intent of committing a felony or theft. The most severe of these 3, the 1st degree burglary is the one wherein the person enters the residential structure with the intent of committing a felony or theft and possesses weapons to execute the same. The penal law in New York treats burglary as felony, regardless of whether it's a 1st degree or 3rd degree.
If convicted for burglary, the person can be sentenced a simple fine or imprisonment for life depending on the severity of the crime and area of jurisdiction. If the person who intended to commit a theft or felony was carrying any weapon with him, it amounts to a 1st degree burglary, which can result in life term in Florida. In the same jurisdiction, a person will be sentenced to 5-years imprisonment for a 3rd degree burglary and 15 years for a 2nd degree burglary. In Virginia, the sentencing for burglary depends on yet another factor, the time when the crime was committed. A burglary committed at night, will earn the convict a harsher sentence than one committed in broad daylight.
Though the terms burglary and robbery are often used interchangeably, there is a vast difference between the two. While a burglary can be charged in various ways mentioned above, robbery can be charged as an armed robbery or aggravated robbery, which makes the difference between these two all the more obvious.