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Larceny, Burglary, and Robbery in New York

There is confusion surrounding the crimes of larceny, burglary, and robbery. The terms mean different things in different jurisdictions across the country. Understanding what these terms mean in the state of New York is important if you or a loved one has been charged with larceny, burglary, or robbery.

The penalties for larceny , burglary, and robbery in New York are serious, and can include jail time and serious fines. If you or a loved one are arrested on criminal charges in Albany County, Rensselaer County, or anywhere in the Capital District, talk to experienced criminal trial lawyers about your rights and how you can fight these criminal charges.

Larceny in New York State

In the State of New York, "larceny" is a blanket term that covers a variety of different types of theft. Under New York statute § 155.05, larceny includes the common law crimes of theft, theft by trick, embezzlement, and theft by false pretenses. All of these crimes involve taking something (money, property, intellectual property like downloading music or movies) that doesn't belong to the taker. However, the form of the taking differentiates the various crimes.

Common Law Larceny by Trespassory Taking

Imagine Lucy walks into a bridal shop. She decides she really wants a designer wedding gown, but she really doesn't want to pay $13,000 for the dress. She waits until the clerk is distracted by other customers, then she grabs the gown of her choice and runs out the door with the dress. She tosses it into her car and drives away as fast as she can. This is common law larceny by trespassory taking. Note Lucy did not have permission to take the dress.

Common Law Larceny by Trick

Imagine again Lucy walks into a bridal shop. Again, she decides she really wants a designer wedding gown, but really doesn't want to pay $13,000 for it. Lucy says to the clerk, "My name is Jane. I am the photographer here to pick up the dress for the photo shoot.” The clerk responds, "I don't know what you are talking about.” Lucy says, “Seriously? I am already late. I am just supposed to grab that dress and take it to the shoot. The model is only hired for an hour. She'll put it on, we'll photograph her, and I'll have the dress back to you by closing time.” The clerk says okay and gives Lucy the $13,000 dress of her dreams. Lucy takes the dress and goes to her car, then drives away. Here, Lucy has committed larceny by trick, because she has convinced the clerk to give her possession of an item that she is not entitled to have. Note Lucy had permission to take the dress, but only because Lucy tricked the clerk into giving her what the clerk thought was temporary - and permissive - possession. This is true even is Lucy plans on bringing the dress back.


In this scenario, Lucy works for the bridal shop. In her position, she has ready access to all the wedding gowns as part of her job duties. She is supposed to take the dresses from the floor and into the back room periodically to steam them, so they look their best. No one thinks twice when Lucy takes the $13,000 wedding dress from the floor and into the back room. However, on this occasion, Lucy decides she is not going to return the dress to the floor after she steams it. Instead, Lucy takes the dress right out the back door of the shop and puts it in her car. Later, after work, she drives home with the dress of her dreams. This is embezzlement, because Lucy used her position as an employee in rightful possession of the dress to fraudulently take the dress. This is true even is Lucy plans on bringing the dress back.

Obtaining Property by False Pretenses

Obtaining property by false pretenses is similar to common law larceny by trick. However, with obtaining property by false pretenses, the title to the property passes to the wrongdoer. An example looks like this:

Lucy goes into the bridal shop, and tells the clerk, “I'd like to buy this dress right here.” The clerk rings it up and says, “That will be $13,000 plus tax.” Lucy proceeds to take a checkbook out of her purse and writes a check for the amount due. She passes the check to the clerk, who asks for an ID. Lucy hands the clerk her own, valid driver's license. "The name on the check is Susan Lucy Johnson. Your driver's license says Lucy Johnson.” Lucy responds, "Susan is just my birth name. Everything else is correct, see? The address matches.”

The address matches because Lucy lives with her mother, Susan, and the checks are actually Lucy's mother's checks. Lucy does not have Susan's permission to use her checkbook. The clerk, of course, doesn't know this, and, seeing as how the address was the same, took the check and gave Lucy the dress. This could be considered theft by false pretenses; because Lucy's misrepresentations were material the clerk passed title of the dress to Lucy based on the false representations.


Most of us think of burglary as a prowler breaking into a home at night to steal belongings out of the home. However, there are two ways to commit a burglary: entering a building without the owner's consent with the intent to commit a crime inside, or remaining unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime inside. And the "crime inside" doesn't have to be stealing - it can be any crime, like assault, or rape, or criminal contempt (violating an order of protection), or any other crime.

Imagine Lucy is in the bridal shop, looking for the dress of her dreams. She can't find it on the floor, so she decides to go into the back room. Her intention is to find the dress and steal it. Once she is in the back room, even before she lays her hands on the dress, she is guilty of burglary, because her intent is to steal the dress and she has unlawfully entered the back room (an area not open to the public). This is an example of an "entering unlawfully" burglary.

Imagine instead that Lucy goes into the changing room with a dress, and hides in the changing room until the bridal shop closes. The work staff leaves for the evening and then Lucy walks out the front door with the dress. This is an example of a "remaining unlawfully" burglary. Even though the bridal shop is open to the public, and even though Lucy stayed in the area where the public is allowed to be, she did not have permission to stay in the public area beyond the store's normal working hours.

And there is a new trend in major retail stores like Walmart, Target, and others: when someone is arrested for shoplifting, the store gives that person a "cease and desist" letter, telling that person he or she is no longer welcome at the store, even though the store is open to the public. If that person goes back another time and shoplifts again, that person can now be arrested for burglary because he or she did not have permission to be in the store because of the "cease and desist" letter, and intended to commit a crime (shoplifting) when he or she went in the second time.


To have a robbery, you must first have a larceny plus an element of force or threat of force. The defendant who is accused of stealing must use either force or threat of force to accomplish the taking or keeping of property wrongfully taken, or to get the other person to hand over the property.

Imagine Lucy goes into the bridal shop, grabs the dress of her dreams, and starts walking towards the exit. “Hey!” yells the store owner. “You can't just take that dress!” Lucy pulls out her gun, points it at the owner, and says, “Watch me,” while slowly backing out of the store. Here, Lucy uses the threat of force (pointing the gun) to keep the property she wrongfully took. This can be considered a form of robbery.

Imagine Lucy goes into the bridal shop, grabs the dress of her dreams, and starts walking towards the exit. “Hey!” yells the store owner. “You can't just take that dress!” The store owner grabs Lucy by the arm to stop her from leaving, and Lucy pushes the owner down and runs away. Here, Lucy uses actual force (pushing the owner down) to keep the property she wrongfully took. This can be considered a form of robbery.

Have you been arrested for a theft crime in New York? 

At Frost & Kavanaugh, we understand what is at stake for you and your family when a loved one is facing theft charges in the Albany area. We are experienced criminal defense attorneys who understand New York's complicated criminal laws and how to fight to get the best outcome possible for our clients. If you have been arrested for theft, burglary or robbery, contact Frost & Kavanaugh as soon as possible. We know that arrests for these types of crimes don't happen just during business hours. That's why you can always reach an attorney at Frost & Kavanaugh - day or night, and on weekends.

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