Differences between Theft & Robbery

Difference between Theft & Robbery

Theft” and “robbery” are common terms that refer to taking money or personal property without permission, but they don’t mean the same thing. The crimes of theft and robbery can easily be confused because both involve taking someone else’s money or property. However, while theft and robbery share some characteristics, the offences are quite different.[1]

Robbery differs from theft primarily in that it involves force or intimidation to take property from another person. It is the use of force that makes robbery, in most cases, the more serious crime.

Definition of Theft

“Theft”—called “larceny” in some states—is a broad term that can cover a wide variety of criminal offenses. For example, shoplifting and stealing a motorcycle are both forms of theft.

The typical elements of theft are a person:

  • taking someone’s money or personal property without permission
  • carrying the property away, and
  • intending to keep the property permanently.

Victim need not be present

Someone can commit theft even by taking unattended property. A couple examples are taking cash left on a restaurant table and stealing a parked car.

Other forms of theft

Each type of theft requires the suspect takes the victim’s property without his/her consent and with the intention to permanently deprive the owner, now victim, of his/her use or possession of the property.

The names applied to the thefts are commonly called larceny, petty theft, grand theft depending on state in which the victim lives or is visiting that depend the circumstances of the crime. [2]

While most people associate theft with taking property, the crime can also involve the stealing of services. For instance, depending on the relevant law, theft can occur where someone doesn’t pay for but uses:

  • cable, cellphone, or electricity services
  • hotel or restaurant accommodations, or
  • public transportation.

Importantly, many states as well as the federal government have passed laws specifically criminalizing identity theft. Other common types of theft include fraud and embezzlement.

Definition of Robbery

Like theft, robbery involves taking money or property without permission. However, the crime of robbery also involves force or the threat of force. The typical elements of robbery are someone taking money or property:

  • with the intent to keep the property permanently
  • without the property owner’s consent
  • by the use of force or intimidation.

Victim must be present[3]

Robbery, unlike theft, entails taking property directly from a person. For instance, suppose two men armed with guns enter a bank, demand money from a teller, and flee with the cash. Because they had intent to steal, used the threat of force, and took money directly from a person, the two men have committed robbery.

Forms of Robbery

Laws may also define robberies in terms of classifications or degrees as well as by types of robbery such as “armed” or “strong arm” robbery of a person; robbery during the commission of rail vessel in operation; home invasion; bank robbery; carjacking; taxi; and ATM user. A home invasion robbery may combine robbery with burglary when property is taken.

Armed Robbery is when the suspect uses an instrument which could cause great bodily injury such as a gun, knife, club, pipe, dirk, or other object used to create a threat of physical harm.

Strong Arm Robbery is when the suspect uses bodily force without an instrument such as fists, feet, pulling the object away from the victim, shoving or holding victim to the ground, putting a sack overhead, restraining the feet or hands in order to take the property and/or facilitate escape.

Penalties for Theft

The punishment for theft is given under Sec 379 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. By this section, any person who commits theft shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three 3 years or with fine or with both.

In many countries, theft (or larceny) can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the value of the stolen property. For example, in Nevada, theft is a misdemeanor if the property is valued at less than $650 and a felony if the value is $650 or more.

Theft convictions carry a range of potential punishments, and the range varies depending on the state. For instance, in Nevada, a felony theft conviction can result in up to ten years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000. A misdemeanor conviction in that state carries the possibility of six months’ jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.

Penalties for Robbery

The punishment for robbery is given under Section 392 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. By this section, any person who commits robbery shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may be extended up to ten years and shall also be liable to pay a fine. If the robbery is committed on the highway between sunset and sunrise, then the period of imprisonment may be extended up to 14 years.

Further, under Section 393 the punishment for an attempt to commit robbery is enshrined. According to this section, anyone who attempts to commit robbery shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for up to seven years and also be liable for a fine.

Because robbery involves force, it is often considered a more serious crime than theft. In most cases, robbery is a felony, and a conviction can result in significant prison time, especially if a weapon was involved. In other countries for example, Georgia’s robbery statute provides that the crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. However, an armed robbery conviction in that state can lead to a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, life imprisonment, or even capital punishment.

When Theft is Robbery[4]

Theft is robbery when in order to commit theft or while committing theft, or while carrying away or attempting to carry away property obtained by theft, the offender voluntarily causes or attempts to cause to any person death, subject him/her to wrongful restraint or cause hurt or induce fear of instant death, instant wrongful restraint or causing instant hurt.

Thus, theft becomes robbery when the following conditions are satisfied;

  • When the offender voluntarily causes or attempts to cause:
  • Death, wrongful restraint or hurt or
  • Fear of instant death, instant wrongful restraint or instant hurt.
  • And the above act(s) is done
  • While committing the theft
  • To commit the theft
  • While carrying away the property obtained by theft or
  • While attempting to carry away property obtained by theft.

Illustrations: A holds Z down and fraudulently takes Z’s money and jewels from Z’s clothes without Z’s consent. Here A has committed theft, and by committing of that theft, has voluntarily caused wrongful restraint to Z. A has therefore committed rob­bery.[5]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What does Islam say about theft & robbery?

Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “And (as for) the male thief and the female thief, cut off (from the wrist joint) their (right) hands as a recompense for that which they committed, a punishment by way of example from Allah. And Allah is All Powerful, All Wise”

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The hand should be cut off for (the theft of) a quarter of a dinar or more.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cursed the thief because he is a corrupt element in society, and if he is left unpunished, his corruption will spread and infect the body of the ummah. He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “May Allah curse the thief who steals an egg and has his hand cut off, or steals a rope and has his hand cut off.”

What indicates that this ruling is definitive is that fact that a Makhzoomi noblewoman stole at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and Usaamah ibn Zayd wanted to intercede for her. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) became angry and said, “Do you intercede concerning one of the hadd punishments set by Allah? Those who came before you were destroyed because if a rich man among them stole, they would let him off, but if a lowly person stole, they would carry out the punishment on him.

Al-Nawawi said in his commentary on Saheeh Muslim: Al-Shaafa’i, Abu Haneefah, Maalik and the majority (of scholars) said: The hand should be cut off from the wrist, where the hand meets the forearm. Al-Qurtubi said: all the scholars said: The hand should be cut off from the wrist, not as some of the innovators do when they cut off the fingers and leave the thumb.

Because cutting off the hand is a serious matter, cutting off the hand of the thief should not be done for just any case of theft. A combination of conditions must be fulfilled before the hand of a thief is cut off. These conditions are as follows:

The thing should have been taken by stealth; if it was not taken by stealth, then (the hand) should not be cut off, such as when property has been seized by force in front of other people, because in this case the owner of the property could have asked for help to stop the thief.

1- The stolen property should be something of worth, because that which is of no worth has no sanctity, such as musical instruments, wine and pigs.

2- The value of the stolen property should be above a certain limit, which is three Islamic dirhams or a quarter of an Islamic dinar, or their equivalent in other currencies.

3- The stolen property should have been taken from a place where it had been put away, i.e., a place where people usually put their property, such as a cupboard, for example.

4- The theft itself has to be proven, either by the testimony of two qualified witnesses or by the confession of the thief twice.

5- The person from whom the property was stolen has to ask for it back; if he does not, then (the thief’s) hand does not have to be cut off. If these conditions are fulfilled, then the hand must be cut off.

If this ruling was applied in the societies which are content with man-made laws and which have cast aside the sharee’ah of Allah and replaced it with human laws, this would be the most beneficial treatment for this phenomenon. But the matter is as Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Do they then seek the judgement of (the days of) Ignorance? And who is better in judgement than Allaah for a people who have firm Faith” [6]

2. How many days does a person stay if he commit theft and robbery?

There are different degrees of Theft. Some charges are misdemeanors and if the value of the items stolen is over a certain amount, theft can actually be a class C felony. Robbery is always a felony charge and there are varying degrees of robbery depending on various elements of the crime (ie: was a weapon involved, was someone assaulted, etc.).So the first thing to understand is exactly what the charges are and what the range of sentencing is for those charges.

However, there are other factors that come into play in terms of sentencing. Was this a first offense or does the person have past convictions? When determining a sentence, the court looks at these past convictions and each one carries “points”. The more points a person has, the more time they will get.

On top of these two considerations, each situation is different and sometimes a defense attorney is able to work out a deal with the prosecutor instead of taking the case to trial. Again, depending on all the details, there are any number of things a defense attorney might be able to work out – but they aren’t magicians. Their job is to provide you with the best defense possible. A lot of people think it is their job to “get you out of your charges”. Well, if the facts support that, and the defense attorney can make a good case for that, then great. But if there’s solid evidence against you and a jury is likely to convict you, an attorney can’t wave a magic wand and make all of that go away. They can try to get you the best deal possible, but they can’t just make things go away.

So even though there are standard sentencing ranges for each crime – each situation is different. There are many variable, so a person’s defense attorney is the best person to ask. He or she will have a pretty good sense of what will likely happen and will be able to guide you in making the best decisions.

3. Are the provisions of the Juvenile Act only for severe crimes or even for a minor theft and robbery?

First of all petit theft is a small crime. Robbery is a violent criminal offense that usually brings a long sentence.

But of the most part based on a lot of things and why it’s created to minimize the penalty of minors Because of age and ability to fully understand the Consequences at the time of Commission of the crime, it’s up to the court and a hearing whether or not that minor child who has been charged with robbery will be charged as an adult or as a juvenile. Juvenile sentence often cap out at about 6 years. Adult sentences can range up to and including life.

The law is for juveniles that commit major crimes that would normally carry a very lengthy sentence. Which means it’s for major and serious criminal law violations like robbery, aggravated battery and most other major specific intent criminal law violations. And robbery is nowhere near a non serious crime life petit theft, in the event use a weapon or firearm that makes it usually a first degree felony punishable by at usually up to thirty 30 years and sometimes a natural life sentence. [7]

Edited by Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


[1] Jessica Gellispie, The Differences Between Theft and Robbery, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/differences-between-theft-robbery.html

[2] ibid.

[3] Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, Indian Penal Code, Thirty-Fifth Edition

[4] Rebecca Furtado, An Overview of Section 390 of the Indian Penal Code, https://blog.ipleaders.in/overview-section-390-indian-penal-code/ , (last visited on July 17,2016)

[5] Illustration (a) to Section 390, Indian Penal Code, 1860

[6] Rahid Bashir, What does Islam say about theft & robbery?, https://www.quora.com/What-does-Islam-say-about-theft-robbery, (last visited on Dec,11,2016)

[7] Michael J. Simpson, Are the provisions of the Juvenile Act only for severe crimes or even for a minor theft and robbery?, https://www.quora.com/Are-the-provisions-of-the-Juvenile-Act-only-for-severe-crimes-or-even-for-a-minor-theft-and-robbery , (last visited on Mar 1,2018)


Akshita Piplani
I am Akshita Piplani pursuing LLB from New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune.Apart from being a confident speaker, I am hardworking, meticulous and a keen learner.I have also participated in a plethora of competitions including debates,moot competition, ,quizes,etc.The injustices of the world bother me since childhood and I always wanted to be able to make a difference by helping people around me to find the right way to deal with maze of life.I have a great passion in Legal areas dealing with company law, intellectual property and drafting.I have the ability to stay calm under pressure with good time management skills.Besides learning stuff,I love playing badminton, watching good movies, love to sing and explore new music.It is my hope that my blog will encourage people to step out of their comfort zone allowing society to maintain the process of societal order and therefore it has a big impact on everyone's lives.