What is the Difference Between Burglary And Larceny?

Millions of larceny-thefts occur yearly in the United States, including  pick-pocketing, shoplifting, car snatching, and bag-snatching. Similarly, over a million cases of burglary have been reported this 2021 in the United States. 

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While the state and law enforcement agencies look for ways to control these crimes, it is essential to understand, and not confuse the actual crimes they are handling. A good attorney works best with clients who are certain of the crime they committed, without any confusion whatsoever.

This article will cover the differences and similarities between larceny and burglary.

We will look at:

  • the definition of larceny and burglary;
  • their differences and similarities; and
  • whether you can be charged with both.

What is Larceny?

Larceny is the unlawful taking or withholding of a person’s items or personal property through any means. See State laws

A person who commits larceny may have the intent to:

  • Temporarily or permanently deprive a defendant of the right to use their property.
  • Give the defendant’s property to another person.
  • Steal the defendant’s property.
  • Prevent the defendant from enjoying the benefits of his property.
  • Convert the property to their own.

Some examples of larceny include:

  • Carjacking;
  • Shoplifting;
  • Pick-pocketing;
  • Theft of motor vehicle parts;
  • Purse-snatching; or
  • Any form of stealing.

Attempted larceny, whereby the theft is attempted but not successful, is also considered to be a form of larceny, and also makes the accused liable.

Types of Larceny

There are two types of larceny: 

1. Grand theft larceny

Grand theft is larceny of personal property having a value above a legally specified amount. The specified amount will be decided by the State Law.

It can be graded a felony with a penalty of imprisonment for one year or more, and a fine. 

2. Petty theft

Petty theft is a type of larceny where the value of the stolen property is below a specified amount. The specified amount will be decided by the State Law.

This type of larceny is usually considered a misdemeanor with a punishment of imprisonment for one year or less.

Therefore, a person who shoplifts a tin of milk will not be in the same category of larceny as one who steals a motor vehicle.

Now that we have a better understanding of larceny, let’s look at burglary.

What is Burglary?

Burglary is the act of breaking into another individual’s property to commit a crime. This includes breaking into a property (during the day or night) to commit robbery.

According to some state laws, burglary also refers to the unlawful entry of a person’s real or personal property. These properties could be for residential or storage purposes. So, if someone breaks into a home or store, it is considered burglary.

Burglary may include:

  • Trespassing into an occupied structure or building;
  • Causing bodily harm to the property owner;
  • Rape after breaking in;
  • Theft or stealing from the property.

Burglary is a felony punishable by law, especially if someone was hurt, if the offender broke into a home, and/or if the offender used weapons.

Can You Be Charged with Burglary and Larceny?

Yes, an accused can be charged with both burglary and larceny because they are separate crimes. 

While breaking into the house amounts to burglary, stealing is larceny. Therefore, if a person breaks into a house and steals a television, they will be charged with burglary and larceny. The accused may also serve separate punishments for each crime.

Larceny vs. Burglary: The Main Difference

The major difference between larceny and burglary is ‘breaking in.’

A burglar commits larceny when they break into the victim’s property and steal an item.

A burglar may also break into a person’s home or office with the intent to cause harm or commit larceny.

Since the crimes of burglary and larceny can be charged separately, a burglar can be charged with either grand larceny or petty theft, depending on the value of items stolen. The difference in punishment between larceny and burglary may depend on the state laws.While some state laws may be lenient, others impose severe punishments for larceny and burglary.

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Elements to Prove in Larceny

1. Unlawful taking of property.

For the defendant to be successful in a suit for larceny, they must prove that the property was unlawfully taken. In these cases, property only entails items that can move from place to place, like accessories, cars, clothes, bags, etc. Lands and houses are not considered property in a larceny suit.

2. Property was taken without the permission of the defendant.

The defendant must also prove that the said property was taken without their permission or involvement. However, if the accused proves that the defendant was aware and permitted the act, then the defendant’s claim may be dismissed.

One of the ways to prove that the property was taken without the defendant’s permission is to demonstrate the reluctance of the accused to return the item. For instance, perhaps the accused came to borrow the belonging for a defined use and bluntly refuses to return it. The defendant can then bring an action against him for larceny or theft.

3. Permanent deprivation of the property.

To prove the crime of larceny, the defendant should be able to show that the accused had the intention to permanently deprive them of the property. This intention becomes very clear in the reluctance of the accused to return the property.

The defendant should also show that the accused never acted in the interest of the defendant but instead for their own benefit.

4. Conversion of the property. 

The defendant may also prove that the accused intended to convert the property to their possession.

For example,  the defendant finds their missing car parked in the accused’s compound or sees them use it for personal business. In these cases, the accused willfully stole the car to use it personally, depriving the defendant of the benefits of the car. Such behavior clearly shows intention.

Another example is where the accused sends the car to their partner for use. This scenario demonstrates that the accused had the intent to convert the defendant’s property to another person. 

If the defendant can establish these elements, they would succeed in an action for theft/larceny. 

Elements to Prove in Burglary

1. Breaking-in

While prior laws restricted burglary to breaking into homes, the amended laws include any form of occupied structure (i.e., stores, schools, etc.). Vehicles like ships, boats, and cars can also be burgled. 

Breaking-in involves the use of great or small force. It ranges from breaking the entrance of a building to stretching one’s hand through the window to steal an item. Even casually opening the restaurant door to rob customers inside is considered burglary. As long as there was a trespass and the accused unlawfully ‘entered’ the building or structure, the defendant can prove burglary.

2. Intention to commit a crime

The defendant will also have to show that the accused had the intention to commit a crime in the building they broke into. For example, if the accused broke into the defendant’s apartment and stole valuables, the theft demonstrates the intent of the accused to commit the crime of burglary.If the accused is found with weapons on them during the theft, this also proves the accused’s intent.

Larceny vs. Burglary: Similarities

Anyone who commits larceny or burglary is guilty of a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the type of theft, and must serve due punishment as provided by the law. Such punishment could include serving time in jail or paying a fine.

Larceny will be regarded as a misdemeanor if the accused commits petty theft. On the other hand, burglary would be regarded as a felony if the defendant can prove that the accused broke into a home with a weapon and hurt someone.

Possible Defenses by the Accused for Larceny/Burglary

An accused can raise any of the following defenses to escape liability if accused of larceny or burglary.

1. The defendant was present.

If the accused can establish that the owner of the property (the defendant) was present when the accused took the property, then the accused may escape liability. 

In addition, the accused can prove consent. That is, the defendant allowed the accused to take the property without any resistance.

2. Absolute claim of right.

The accused may also demonstrate that the property in question is theirs by presenting evidence of ownership. For instance, perhaps they were attempting to get the property back but to no avail, and the only option they had was to steal it back.

3. It was a mistake.

The accused can show the court that taking the property that didn’t belong to them was an honest mistake.

For instance, perhaps while arranging some items, the accused may pack the defendant’s items with theirs. In this scenario, the accused would have to prove that he had no intent to commit any theft.

Remedies for Larceny/Burglary

The defendant is entitled to the following remedies:

1. Compensation

The defendant is entitled to compensation from the accused for the property stolen by the accused. This compensation could be monetary or material. Compensations are typically to appeal to the defendant for any harm suffered.

2. Damages

Damages are similar to compensation in that the exact amount stolen is given to the defendant or payment for a particular injury caused by the accused is made to the defendant.

3. Restitution

Here, the court may order the accused to give back the stolen property to the defendant.

4. Victims Assistance programs

These assistance programs are typically for victims of rape or torture. The state set up these programs to help these victims recover from any trauma they experienced during the burglary and/or assault.

5. Injunction

The court may order the accused to maintain a level of distance from the defendant. The purpose of this injunction is to protect the defendant from the accused.

6. Statutory Provisions

The law already provides punishments for a person who participates in larceny or burglary. These provisions already favor the defendant from the beginning.


While we may initially think of all thefts as the same, it is important to note the distinction between larceny and burglary.

Importantly, both a defendant and the accused would need the services of a criminal defense attorney in the event of any theft or burglary. Hopefully, the basic elements of these crimes as described above give you a better understanding when you want to discuss such a case. 

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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