Washington Laws on Gross Misdemeanor and Felony Theft and Shoplifting

Like many states, Washington classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen—and, in some cases, by other facts relating to the theft.

Washington's theft statute covers a broad range of prohibited conduct, including offenses commonly referred to as embezzlement, shoplifting, and possession of stolen property. Serious theft convictions can result in substantial incarceration time and large fines.

Defining Theft in Washington

A person commits theft by doing any of the following with the intent of depriving another of their property or services:

  • wrongfully obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property or services of another
  • obtains control over the property or services of another by using deception, or
  • appropriates lost or misdelivered property or services of another.

The term "property" includes anything of value, whether tangible or intangible. Services include businesses such labor, professional, and transportation services; the hospitality industry; restaurants; entertainment; and public utility services.

A person can commit theft by stealing a wallet or TV, staying at a hotel and skipping out on the bill, deceiving someone into transferring them money, or keeping a misdelivered package without trying to find the owner.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.04.110; 9A.56.010, .020 (2020).)

Penalties for Theft Offenses in Washington

Like many states, Washington categorizes its theft offenses primarily according to the value of the stolen property or services. 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. Washington law classifies theft as first-, second-, or third-degree crimes.

Theft in the Third Degree or Gross Misdemeanor Theft

A person who steals property or services worth $750 or less is guilty of third-degree theft. This gross misdemeanor subjects a defendant to up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Theft in the Second Degree or Class C Felony Theft

A person commits second-degree theft when the value of the stolen property or services is more than $750 but less than $5,000. Punishment for such an offense includes up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Theft in the First Degree or Class B Felony Theft

First-degree theft involves stolen property or services worth over $5,000. Regardless of value, stealing a firearm or motor vehicle or taking property of any value directly from a person constitutes a class B felony. A defendant guilty of any of these class B felony thefts faces up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9A.20.021; 9A.56.030, .040, .050, .065, .300 (2020).)

Shoplifting or Retail Theft in Washington

Like many states, Washington's retail theft laws (often calling shoplifting) provide for both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal Penalties

Shoplifting crimes carry the same penalties for theft (described above) based on the value of the stolen merchandise. However, penalties increase for special circumstances, where the defendant did any of the following:

  • left the retail store by way of an emergency exit
  • used a device or instrument designed to overcome security, or
  • committed theft at three or more separate establishments within a 180-day time period.

A person who shoplifts merchandise worth $750 or less commits a gross misdemeanor. If the offense involved special circumstances or the stolen goods are valued at more than $750, the crime becomes a felony. Finally, if the theft involves the shoplifter getting into a scuffle with store security or employees, the charge increases to an even more serious felony.

Civil Penalties

In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting) or leaves a restaurant or hotel without paying 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
  • reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs the owner or seller expends.

Under Washington law, if the parent or legal guardian of a juvenile shoplifter is assuming liability, the maximum retail value of the stolen merchandise that is recoverable is limited to $1,425.

(Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.24.230; 9A.56.360 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with theft or a related offense, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can discuss the unique circumstances of your case with you and explore any possible defenses.

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