If you take someone else’s property without their permission, it’s always a crime — but the terms “theft, burglary and robbery” each have distinct meanings under the law.

Ordinary theft, or “larceny” in Virginia, is the most basic crime of the three. It basically involves taking something of value from another person with the intent to permanently deprive them of that item. Larceny charges are further broken down in this state to “petit larceny,” which is treated as a misdemeanor offense, and “grand larceny” which is much more serious and generally a felony. How someone is charged generally has a lot to do with how much they stole and how it was stolen. Stealing just $5 directly from someone’s person, like a pickpocket, for example, is considered grand larceny.

Robbery is the same as theft, with one powerful exception: It involves either the threat of force or the use of actual force. For example, if a pickpocket graduates to pulling a knife on their victims and making threats, that’s robbery — even if the threat is idle. Because robbery is considered a more serious crime than theft, it is always treated as a felony. That automatically brings bigger fines and longer sentences if a defendant is convicted, even for a first offense. It’s also important to note that some types of robbery, including carjacking, are treated even more harshly.

Burglary, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily involve a theft (although it can). Instead, it involves someone unlawfully entering the dwelling of another person with the mere intention of committing theft or some other felony while there. Burglary charges can also be elevated from a lower degree felony to a higher one, depending on whether a weapon was present at the time and what happened during the incident.

Felony larceny charges, robbery and burglary are all serious offenses that require a serious defense. If you’ve been charged with any of the three, get experienced representation as quickly as possible.