What is Theft and How is it Punished in Washington?
Theft occurs when a person dishonestly takes property belonging to another person. It is often accompanied with an intention to permanently deprive that other person of their property.
While theft may not be as serious as burglary or robbery, the consequences of conviction are just as significant. For one, being a property offence, employers are especially wary of prospective employees with theft convictions. Even the mere allegation of theft can often be enough to seriously compromise one's chances of employment.
However, due to the fact that theft is such a common offence, people are often quick to levy allegations, even in questionable circumstances. If steps are not quickly taken to comprehensively disprove the allegations, they can cause real damage.
Besides, when a charge is laid, the offence of theft may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or even a felony. Conviction for either can lead to significant jail time. It is possible to avoid these though, if one immediately contacts and secures the services of a skilled Washington theft attorney.
Whether you are in Tacoma, King, Pierce, or Thurston counties, The Curtis Firm can provide quality defense for your theft charge. With over fourteen years defending the rights of clients like you, we have garnered deep expertise which we will bring to bear in fighting for your freedom.
What is Theft?
Theft in Washington is defined as “wrongfully obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over the property or services of another person or the equivalent value with the intent of depriving that person of such property or services”.
Also, when a person takes possession of lost or mistakenly delivered property or service a theft charge may lie. This will especially be the case if the act was done with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of said property or services.
In Washington, the penalty for theft is usually determined by the severity of the offence. This severity is determined by the value of the item or services stolen. An offence of theft will generally include the following elements:
- A wrongful taking of another person's property or services
- The property was taken away from where the owner placed it or intended it to be placed.
- The service was appropriated in a manner in which the owner did not intend it to be appropriated.
- The service or property was for someone else other than the defendant.
- There was an intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property or service.
Types of Theft
The type of theft committed is a determinant of the specific elements needed to prove the offence. They include:
- Auto theft: Theft of this nature involves motor vehicle which includes cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, etc.
- Petty theft: This involves unlawful taking of anything with a value of less than $400. It is usually classified as a misdemeanour.
- Felony theft: This involves unlawful taking of anything with a value higher than $400. As the name indicates, it is a felony.
- Theft by embezzlement: This is the appropriation of anything that has been entrusted to an individual. The theft is classified as embezzlement because the stolen property was entrusted to the individuals in a relationship of trust (fiduciary relationship).
- Retail theft: This is the unlawful taking of property from a mercantile establishment, such as a store. It is also known as shoplifting.
What are the degrees of theft?
In Washington, the offence of theft is divided into different degrees of seriousness. The classification is mainly dependent on the value of the stolen items, with a few other factors. The degrees are as follows:
In Washington, this is the theft of property or services with a value of over $5,000 (excluding firearms or motor vehicles). It is a Class B felony and is punishable by a prison term of no more than 10 years or a fine of $20,000 or both.
This is the theft of property or services with a value of over $750 but less than $5,000 (excluding firearms or motor vehicles). Also, if an access device such as a card, access code, or other form of access to an account was stolen, it would be considered theft in the second degree.
Second-degree theft is a Class C felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.
For retail theft in the second degree, certain elements must be established beyond reasonable doubt before a conviction can be sustained. It must be proved that:
- The defendant or an accomplice:
- wrongfully obtained or exerted unauthorized control over property from a mercantile establishment (or more) for more than 180 days.
- obtained control over property from a mercantile establishment with the aid of deception for over 180 days.
- appropriated lost or misdelivered property from a commercial establishment for over 180 days
- The defendant intended to deprive the commercial establishment permanently
- The defendant was acting together with an accomplice
- The stolen property had a value of not less than $750 and not up to $5,000
- The crime occurred in Washington.
To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that elements 2,3,4, and 5 and any alternative of element 1 occurred.
This is the unlawful taking of property or services valued less than $750. Most Washington shoplifting cases fall under theft in the third degree. Third-degree theft is a Gross Misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. The elements required to secure a conviction are the same as that required for theft in the second degree.
Theft in the third degree also covers the theft of merchandise pallets and beverage crates. These are containers that manufacturers and distributors use to transport their goods to and from stores. They are usually branded with the owner's logo and bear an inscription stating that they are the company's property.
Stealing 10 or more merchandise pallets, or 10 or more beverage crates or a combination of 10 or more merchandise pallets and beverage crates makes a person liable for a charge of theft in the third degree.
In addition to these levels of theft, the State of Washington also identifies some other types of theft and classifies them as separate offences. They are:
Shoplifting as third-degree theft
Shoplifting is defined as going into a store, picking a displayed item of a predetermined value and leaving or attempting to leave the store without intending to pay for the item.
Shoplifting falls under theft in the third degree, but has a few elements that are unique to it. When a person is caught shoplifting, the person is charged with a crime and also held civilly liable by the store where the theft occured.
The store can send the perpetrator a bill for double the price of the merchandise even if it was recovered in perfect condition. Washington State law allows for up to $2,850 in retail value of merchandise or services stolen. This bill is known as a Civil Demand Letter. Other penalties include:
- An extra penalty of at least $100 but not more than $650
- All reasonable attorney fees and court costs incurred by the store
Washington law also states that if the perpetrator is a minor, then the liability will be assumed by the parent or legal guardian. In such cases, the maximum retail value of the stolen merchandise that is recoverable is limited to $1,425.
How can a lawyer help you?
When facing a Tacoma charge of theft, you should secure the services of a competent Washington Theft attorney as soon as you can. This should be done preferably before criminal charges are filed. A skilled attorney can explore several avenues to get you off the hook and even get the theft expunged from your records.
At The Curtis Firm, we will defend you with thoroughness mixed with a healthy dose of ingenuity. We have over a decade of experience and a solid track record of delivering positive outcomes for our clients.
Call 253-327-1063 to book a free consultation or visit our offices at 1216 Martin Luther King Jr Way Suite 1 Tacoma, WA 98405.