What’s the difference between looting and burglary?

On Behalf of | Nov 13, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Stealing from another person is a criminal offense in all U.S. states. But stealing also describes other offenses involving misappropriating another person’s property, which can sound similar on paper.

Take for instance the terms burglary and looting. For the average person, the two acts describe stealing from another person by unlawfully entering that person’s property. However, Alabama law makes a clear distinction between the two offenses.

What is burglary?

Per state law, a person is guilty of burglary if they knowingly and unlawfully enter a building – whether occupied or not, a dwelling or a commercial building – with the intent to commit a crime.

At the lowest level, burglary in the third degree is a Class C felony, which leads to up to 10 years of imprisonment and $15,000 in fines. But certain circumstances (i.e., the violator has a deadly weapon, causing physical injury to a non-participant of the offense) can bump up the offense up to burglary in the first degree. Burglary in the first degree is a Class A felony, which carries up to life imprisonment and $60,000 in fines.

What is looting?

Meanwhile, Alabama law describes looting as the offense a person commits if they intentionally enter any building without authorization during a state of emergency and then steal the property of another. Looting is a Class C felony, just like a burglary in the third degree.

The law defines a “state of emergency” as when the state governor proclaims a state of emergency following a disaster of extreme magnitude. These disasters include earthquakes, fire, flood, storm, epidemics, technological failure, terrorism and even man-made disasters.

Burglary and looting may sound like the same offense, but one refers to breaking into a building to commit a crime, while the other refers to opportunistic theft during a crisis. A conviction for burglary can potentially lead to more severe penalties than a conviction for looting, which is only limited to penalties for Class C felonies.