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To the layperson, the distinction between theft and robbery may not be entirely clear. In fact, outside a law school or a courtroom, it would not be unusual to find people using the terms interchangeably. The similarities of the offenses lend themselves to this confusion. They both involve an offender taking something that does not belong to them from someone else. But there is a reason they were distinguished by the common law and remain distinguished in modern law today. It speaks to our fundamental notions of fairness and justice to treat differently those that engage in “safe” criminal behavior and those that do not. Surely the deft pickpocket, who collects wallets without confrontation, is distinct from the armed mugger, who demands wallets at gunpoint. A covert thief whose clandestine thefts go unnoticed until well after their completion poses very little risk to society outside the actual effects of his or her crimes. Conversely, the brazen robber, who takes by force or threat, not only demands the immediate attention of the victim, but also engages the victim’s basic survival instincts — dramatically increasing the risk of potentially deadly consequences.


This comment appeared in the online supplement to University of Dayton Law Review, Vol. 49, Issue 3.

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