What Is the Difference Between Burglary and Larceny?

Updated May 3, 2024
6 min read
Paper titled "Burglary vs Larceny"; police car, handcuffs, bank notes, fence with no trespassing sign, house

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 the previous 2023 in the United States.

Even as state agencies and law enforcement work tirelessly to manage and control crimes, a clear understanding of the specific crimes they are addressing is vital. This clarity extends to the relationship between clients and their attorneys. A well-informed client who understands the nature of their charges often makes the attorney's job more straightforward. So, one might ask, what's the difference between burglary and larceny?

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

What Is Larceny?

Larceny, by definition, involves the unlawful taking or retaining of someone else's belongings or personal effects through any method. However, it's important to note a distinction when comparing larceny theft vs burglary. 


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.

What Is Burglary?

Burglary is 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, which 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 key element that distinguishes larceny from burglary is the aspect of forced entry. In simpler terms, the primary difference between larceny and burglary is that burglary involves the act of “breaking in” a structure with the intent to commit a crime.

  • 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 vs. larceny can be charged separately, a burglar can be charged with either grand larceny or petty theft, depending on the value of the items stolen. The difference between burglary and theft depends on the state laws. While some state laws may be lenient to the larceny vs. burglary definition, others impose severe punishments for larceny and burglary.

Elements to Prove in Larceny

Exploring the critical aspects is necessary to establish a larceny case. Understanding these key elements is essential in both the prosecution and defense of such charges.

  1. Unlawful taking of property: The defendant must prove that movable property (not land or houses) was unlawfully taken.
  2. Property taken without permission: The property was taken without the defendant's consent. Evidence may include refusal by the accused to return the item.
  3. Permanent deprivation of the property: The accused had the intention to permanently deprive the defendant of the property. Indicators may include the accused's self-serving behavior.
  4. Conversion of the property: The accused intended to assert control over the property or place it into the possession of others. Examples may include using the stolen property for personal gain or gifting it to a third party.

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

Elements to Prove in Burglary

As burglary is a serious offense with potentially life-altering consequences, comprehending the elements to prove is absolutely critical. The primary elements to be proven in a burglary case can be listed as follows:

Breaking in

This could involve anything from forceful entry into a building to reaching through a window to take an item. This condition applies to any occupied structure and even vehicles like boats and cars. If there's evidence of trespassing and unlawful entry, this could substantially support a burglary charge.

Intention to commit a crime

It must be demonstrated that the accused had the intention to commit a crime once within the structure or vehicle. For instance, if valuables are stolen or if the accused is found in possession of weapons, this could solidly signify their intent to commit the crime of burglary.

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. 
  2. Absolute claim of right. The accused may also demonstrate that the property in question is theirs by presenting an affidavit 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

In the aftermath of experiencing a larceny or burglary, the victims or defendants in such cases are not left without recourse. The legal system provides an array of remedies designed to make amends for the property loss, emotional distress, and potential damage that such crimes entail. These remedies, which we will explore next, can offer some form of relief and help in restoring a semblance of normalcy following the infringement of personal and property rights. 

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:
    Similar to compensation, damages are awarded to the offender in the precise amount that was stolen or as recompense for a specific harm that the accused party caused.

  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 it might be tempting to lump all theft-related crimes together, recognizing the distinction what is the difference between larceny and burglary is crucial, given that they constitute separate offenses under the law.

Importantly, both the defendant and the accused would need the services of a criminal defense attorney in the event of any theft or burglary. Also, you can visit the reliable resource vendor, Lawrina, for more legal information. Hopefully, the basic elements of these crimes, as described above, give you a better understanding when you want to discuss such a case. 

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By using Lawrina’s Site you agree with mentioned above and give your irrevocable consent to comply with and to be bound by the provisions of Lawrina Service terms. 

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