What are the state of Washington’s laws regarding theft? How does theft differ from robbery or burglary in this state? Could you be wrongly accused of committing a theft in the Seattle area?
Legally speaking in our state, robbery, burglary, and theft are three distinct and different crimes. Each is very precisely defined.
For example, if you return home from shopping, and you discover that someone has broken into your home and stolen your jewelry, you might tell others that you were robbed, but to speak precisely and legally, what happened is that you were burglarized.
HOW IS ROBBERY DEFINED IN WASHINGTON?
A robbery happens when someone steals cash or property directly from someone else – like an armed robbery, for example.
While robbery does not always involve a weapon, it does, however, always involve the threat or the actual use of force, violence, and/or the fear of death or serious injury.
All robberies are charged and prosecuted as felonies in the state of Washington.
HOW IS BURGLARY DEFINED IN WASHINGTON?
A burglary happens when someone enters a building, dwelling, or vehicle with criminal intent.
No actual stealing, or other additional crime is necessary for a burglary charge to be filed against a defendant. Simply entering a building, dwelling, or vehicle with criminal intent is sufficient to constitute an act of burglary in this state.
All burglaries are charged and prosecuted as felonies in the state of Washington.
WHAT IS THIS STATE’S DEFINITION OF THEFT?
Theft charges are filed more frequently in Washington than robbery or burglary charges. A theft happens when someone takes someone else’s cash or property without the owner’s permission and with the intention of depriving the owner of the use or ownership of the cash or property.
Generally speaking, theft is stealing cash or property when no one is looking.
Taking and keeping lost or mistakenly delivered items or cash also constitutes theft in the state of Washington.
HOW DOES THIS STATE CATEGORIZE THEFT CHARGES?
State law recognizes theft in three degrees:
1. First-degree theft is a Class B felony. When the stolen property or cash is valued at or above $5,000 or is a firearm or a motor vehicle, the charge is first-degree theft. A conviction is punishable with a fine of up to $20,000 and a prison term of up to ten years.
2. When stolen property or cash is valued from $750 to $5,000, or when the stolen item is an account access device like a card or a code, it’s a second-degree theft, a Class C felony. Convictions are punishable with a fine of $10,000 and up to five years in prison.
3. When stolen cash or property is valued below $750, it’s a third-degree theft. Third-degree theft is a gross misdemeanor punishable upon conviction in this state with a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to 364 days.
WHAT ABOUT JOYRIDING AND SHOPLIFTING IN WASHINGTON?
State law in Washington also makes a distinction between vehicle theft, a Class B felony, and joyriding – when there is no intent to deprive the owner permanently of the vehicle – which is a class C felony.
Most shoplifting crimes in Washington are third-degree thefts – gross misdemeanors. However, convicted shoplifters – and in many cases, their parents – may also be found liable for shoplifting-related damages if the victimized store or business owner pursues a civil lawsuit.
WHAT COULD WARRANT AN EVEN MORE SEVERE SENTENCE FOR THEFT?
Washington’s judges must stay within the sentencing guidelines spelled out above unless a theft is accompanied by aggravating circumstances that warrant a more severe sentence.
A prior criminal conviction, for example, or a child’s involvement in a theft would be considered an aggravating circumstance.
COULD YOU BE WRONGLY ACCUSED OF COMMITTING A THEFT?
So far in 2018 – up to Memorial Day, that is – more than 8,200 thefts have been reported in Seattle, and that figure does not include another 1,200-plus vehicle thefts.
With so much theft activity, an innocent person could easily wind up facing a theft charge in the Seattle area.
But whether you are entirely innocent of theft or guilty as charged, if you are arrested for a theft in the state of Washington, you must be represented by an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney, and you must reach out to that attorney as quickly as possible after the arrest.
WHAT DEFENSES MIGHT BE OFFERED AGAINST A THEFT CHARGE?
If you are charged with committing a theft in the state of Washington, after reviewing the details of the charges against you, your attorney might offer one of these defenses on your behalf:
1. You truly believed that you owned or had a legal right to the cash or property in question.
2. You were wrongly identified, and another person committed the theft.
3. The theft story is fabricated, and no theft, in fact, took place.
Even if you committed a theft, one instance of poor judgment genuinely should not be allowed to devastate your future.
WHY IS AVOIDING A THEFT CONVICTION SO IMPERATIVE?
One problem you may face is that many employers simply will not hire anyone who has a recent conviction for theft or for any theft-related crime.
And if you are a student, a conviction for theft may disqualify you from eligibility for scholarships and other financial assistance. If you are an immigrant in this state, a theft conviction could trigger a deportation proceeding.
HOW CAN A CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER HELP?
Those are all among the reasons why it is imperative for anyone who is facing a theft charge in Washington to obtain a good defense lawyer’s help – immediately. In many theft cases, your attorney will be able to help you avoid a conviction.
In some cases, however, the state’s evidence against a defendant will be conclusive, and a conviction is certain. In these situations, a criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain or arrange for reduced or alternative sentencing.
If you face a robbery, burglary, or theft charge – or any related criminal charge – in the Seattle area or anywhere in the state, fight the charge. Get the experienced legal help you need, and get it immediately.
Do not let a conviction for theft take your freedom or damage your future. If you are charged with theft, obtaining a qualified defense attorney’s help is your immediate and imperative priority. Moreover, it’s your right