Tacoma Theft Attorney(253) 733-2093
Being stopped by security, questioned by police, or even arrested for a theft-related crime in Washington is undoubtedly a scary experience. Many accused of stealing have often never been in trouble with the law before and frequently have a lot of questions.
The penalties and potential consequences of a theft charge will largely depend on the circumstances and the value taken, but the first step towards putting this behind you is contacting a criminal defense lawyer with experience handling various theft offenses. With a track record of successfully achieving the best possible outcomes for clients, theft attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield is prepared to speak with you, explain your options, and fight to protect you. Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC.
Washington Theft Law Defined – Ask a Tacoma Theft Attorney
According to state law (RCW 9A.56.020), theft in Washington is “wrongfully obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive.” Essentially, this addresses actions related to willfully removing or obtaining someone else’s property or services where that person no longer possesses or has access to them.
While this covers various scenarios related to stealing, sometimes confusion arises from using terms like theft, shoplifting, and fraud interchangeably. However, like in several other states, theft offenses in Washington are mainly classified by the value taken.
Degrees of Theft & Penalties
Washington theft crimes are divided into two categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Specifically, misdemeanors are filed in District or Municipal Court while felony theft charges are filed in Superior court.
Theft in the Third Degree
(RCW § 9A.56.050)
This is the most common and lowest level theft offense in Washington and usually includes instances of shoplifting. The charge is defined as taking the property or services of another with a value less than $750. Third-degree theft is a gross misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and 364 days in jail.
Theft in the Second Degree
This is the next level of theft charge and describes taking property or services valued at more than $750 but below$5,000. This heightens the offense to a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.
Theft in the First Degree
This is the highest level of theft crime in Washington and is applied if the property or value taken exceeds $5,000 or if the property of any value is taken directly from another’s person. This is classified as a class B felony with penalties up to 10 years of imprisonment and no more than a $10,000 fine.
Civil Liability Explained
In certain theft cases, particularly in instances of shoplifting, a person can also be held civilly liable or responsible to a store or business for losses they sustained in addition to any criminal penalties. For example, someone can be held responsible for the value taken as long as it does not exceed $2,850, can be required to pay an additional penalty between $100 and $650, and be required to pay the legal fees and court costs incurred by the property’s owner or business in question. Additionally, if a parent or guardian of a minor offender is held liable, the maximum value recoverable is $1,425.
Other Consequences and Problems Down the Road
In addition to possible jail time, probation, fines, and civil liability concerns a Washington theft conviction can have other harsh and long-term implications. A theft conviction on your record can potentially label you as a dishonest person, which can follow you as you look for jobs, fill out loan applications, and try to rent or buy a home. Furthermore, if you are not a U.S. citizen a theft conviction can create a lot of difficulty – even deportation.
Contact us today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC.
Theft Court Process
As stated above, a lot of people charged with theft crimes have little to no experience with Washington’s criminal justice system. At the very start, you have the right to be notified of your charges and the opportunity to consult a criminal defense attorney. While the process can seem daunting, with help and practical advice from a skilled theft attorney, you can confidently move through the stages towards a favorable result.
- Arraignment: This is typically your first court appearance, where you are formally notified of your charges, advised about any bail or bond requirements, and asked to enter a plea: either guilty or not guilty.
- Pre-Trial Hearings: This will be scheduled after your arraignment to hopefully resolve any pending issues. This will be you and your attorney’s first formal opportunity to negotiate a resolution.
- Motion Hearing: If your case proceeds after the pre-trial hearing, your attorney will start filing motions to bring up issues in your case. This can include motions to suppress certain evidence if they were improperly collected, your rights were violated in some way, or to argue that the prosecution has not provided enough evidence to support the charge against you.
- Readiness Hearing: Once the motions have been reviewed and addressed, both the defense and prosecution will meet to determine each party’s readiness level for a trial. This is another opportunity to obtain a dismissal or reduction, reach a plea negotiation or other resolution.
- Trial: It is important to remember that most theft cases do not proceed all the way through a trial; however, an attorney can help determine if this is in your best interest. During a trial, the prosecutor will need to prove all the elements of its case and your attorney will present your crafted defense strategy to refute the state’s claims, with a judge or jury making the final determination of your innocence or guilt.
- Sentencing: If you are convicted, any punishment will be handed down by a judge. Their decision will primarily be influenced by Washington State sentencing guidelines covering your specific charges, a recommendation by the prosecutor, and a pre-sentencing report prepared by your attorney. You also have the right to speak on your own behalf, but this is not mandatory. This is usually most effective by consulting and preparing a statement with your attorney.
Possible Outcomes & the Importance of a Defense – Contact a Tacoma Theft Lawyer
The details, evidence, and circumstances in any Washington theft case will be different for everyone, but by partnering with an effective theft attorney you can evaluate the prosecution’s case and determine how to properly handle the situation.
Some of the potential outcomes that you should discuss with your attorney include:
- The dismissal of the charges based on a lack of evidence
- A reduction to a lesser offense that is more appropriate based on the situation
- A deferred sentence or plea agreement for a reduced penalty
- Achieving a not guilty verdict at trial
Investigating theft cases and raising the strongest possible defense on your behalf requires a high degree of skill and a meticulous attention to detail. Theft charges usually stem from people acting out of desperation, in the heat of the moment, or simply making a foolish mistake.
At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we don’t want to see a lapse in judgment unnecessarily limit your future and will do everything possible under the law to challenge the evidence, find any mistakes made by law enforcement, and obtain a result that lets you put this incident in the past—where it belongs.
If you’ve been charged with any theft crime in Tacoma or any of its surrounding areas, call attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield right away to see how we can help.