Washington Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

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Defining Theft Under Washington Law

Theft is committed in the state of Washington when someone wrongfully takes or obtains property (or services) with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of that property (or of the value of those services). Washington laws also consider the appropriating of lost or mistakenly delivered property to be theft.

More specifically, according to Washington criminal statutes, theft is defined as “to wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services,” including by deception; or “to appropriate lost or misdelivered property or services of another, or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services.” (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.56.020.)

Theft Offenses and Penalties in Washington

Like so many states, Washington categorizes its theft offenses primarily according to the value of the property or services taken. In some cases, where the property is of a certain type -- such as a firearm or motor vehicle -- the value does not necessarily determine the classification of the theft. Let’s take a closer look at different theft offenses in Washington, starting with the lowest- level theft offense, which is often referred to as petty theft.

Theft in the Third Degree / Gross Misdemeanor Theft. The lowest-level theft offense in the state of Washington is "theft in the third degree," which involves the theft of property or services of a value that does not exceed $750.

Theft in the third degree is classified as a "gross misdemeanor" under Washington law (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9A.56.050), punishable by imprisonment in county jail for a maximum of one year, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. (§ 9A.20.021(2).)

Theft in the Second Degree / Class C Felony Theft. A theft offense in the state of Washington is classified as "theft in the second degree" (a class C felony under Washington law) if the value of the property or services stolen is more than $750 but not more than $5,000 (and as long as the property is not a firearm or motor vehicle). (§ 9A.56.040.)

A class C felony in the state of Washington is punishable by a term of imprisonment of no more than five years in a Washington state correctional institution, a fine no more than $10,000, or both. (§ 9A.20.021(1)(c).)

Theft in the First Degree / Class B Felony Theft. A theft offense in the state of Washington is classified as "theft in the first degree," which is a class B felony, if the value of property (other than a firearm or motor vehicle) or services stolen exceeds $5,000, or if property of any value is taken directly from the person of another. (§ 9A.56.030.)

A class B felony is punishable by a term of imprisonment of no more than 10 years in a Washington state correctional institution, a fine of no more than $20,000, or both. (§ 9A.20.021(1)(b).)

Civil Penalties for Theft in Washington

In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting) in the state of Washington may be civilly liable to the store or business owner for:

  • the retail value of the merchandise or services stolen, not to exceed $2,850
  • an additional penalty of at least $100 but not more than $650, and
  • all reasonable attorney's fees and court costs expended by the owner or seller.

Under Washington law, if the parent or legal guardian of a juvenile shoplifter is assuming liability, the maximum retail value of the merchandise stolen that is recoverable is limited to $1,425. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 4.24.230.)

Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charges in Washington

Washington statutes on theft do not specifically address the effect of prior convictions on theft charge in the state of Washington, but any criminal conviction on a defendant's criminal record ( whether for a theft-related offense or for any other misdemeanor or felony) is likely to mean harsher punishments come sentencing time. You can conduct your own legal research or speak to a Washington criminal law attorney to understand how prior theft-related convictions, or any prior criminal convictions, may affect a subsequent theft charge.

by: , J.D.

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