In legal terms, theft is commonly defined as the unauthorized taking of another person’s property coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property. The element of “taking” is further defined as seizing control over the property. It is important to note that there are many different forms of theft crimes. Understanding the different forms of theft crimes is important to understanding the charges associated with the various forms of theft crimes.

Typically, theft is considered a misdemeanor. This means that the punishments for theft are often small fines of up to $500, imprisonment of less than one year, or a combination of both. However, in the State of Washington, there are many forms of theft that can be charged as a felony. Punishments for felony charges can include large fines for more than $10,000, imprisonment for over a year, or a combination of both.

What Is Felony Theft in Washington State?

As mentioned above, the common law definition of theft is the unauthorized taking of another person’s property coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property. In Washington, the crime of theft is defined in the Revised Code of Washington as wrongful obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over another’s property or services, with the intent to deprive the owner.

Theft crimes also include where an individual appropriates lost or misdelivered property or services of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner. Theft crimes in Washington are further divided into the following forms of theft:

  • Burglary: In Washington, a person is guilty of burglary if they enter or remain unlawfully in a building, with an intent to commit a crime therein. If the person who unlawfully entered the building (or another participant in the crime) possesses a deadly weapon or assaults another person they will be charged with burglary in the first degree (class A felony);
  • Larceny or Embezzlement: Unlike burglary or robbery, the crimes of larceny or embezzlement does not involve the use of force, intimidation, or the threat of force to take the property of another. Instead, embezzlement is a form of theft where one individual, who is in a position of trust or responsibility over another individual’s property or money, fraudulently takes the property or money they were trusted to oversee for themselves.
    • An example of a relationship of trust is an employer-employee relationship. Typically, these crimes are known as white-collar crimes, as they often involve an employee laundering funds from their employer. However, if the relationship between the two individuals is not as clear, the crime of larceny encompasses embezzlement. In Washington State, the penalties associated with the crime of embezzlement range from misdemeanor charges to felony charges, depending on the value of property embezzled. The range of penalties for Washington State theft is further discussed below;
  • Fraud: In Washington State, there are five fraud crimes that are defined in the Revised Code of Washington. These crimes include the unlawful production of checks, the unlawful possession of payment instruments, the unlawful possession of fake identification, the unlawful possession of a personal id device, and the unlawful possession of other instruments of financial fraud. Specifically, the crimes of financial fraud are defined in the Revised Code of Washington 9A.56.320; and
  • Receiving Stolen Property: In Washington State, a person commits the crime of possessing stolen property when they:
    • Knowingly receive, retain, possess, conceal, or dispose of stolen property;
    • They know that the property was stolen property; and
    • They possessed the stolen property with the intention to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the property.

As can be seen, there are various different forms that theft may take. However, as mentioned above, what makes a theft crime become a felony is typically the amount of money involved in the theft crime.

What Makes Theft a Felony Theft in Washington State?

As mentioned above, theft crimes in Washington State may be charged as either a misdemeanor or as a felony. Misdemeanor theft is typically referred to as petty theft, and involves theft where the amount of money stolen is less than $750 in value. Examples of petty theft crimes include shoplifting, dining and dashing, or misappropriation of small funds. When the amount stolen in the theft crime exceeds $750, the charges become more serious, and are classified as either second-degree theft or first-degree theft.

The three degrees of theft charges in Washington State are defined as follows:

  • Third Degree Theft: Once again, third degree theft is also known as petty theft, and will be charged as a gross misdemeanor. Petty theft occurs when the stolen property does not exceed $750 in value. If an individual is convicted of first degree theft in Washington State, the penalties can include up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, or a combination of both;
  • Second Degree Theft: In Washington State, second degree theft occurs when the value of the property alleged to have been stolen is valued at more than $750 in value and less than $5,000 in value. It is important to note that there are specific crime statutes in Washington State that deal with the theft of motor vehicles or firearms. Thus, if the overall theft crime included the theft of motor vehicles or firearms, the theft of the motor vehicle or firearm will be charged as a separate crime.
    • Second degree theft also includes the theft of access devices, which includes credit card numbers, account numbers, or other pieces of information that would allow an individual to obtain access to another person’s goods or services. For example, insurance policy numbers are considered to be access device information. Penalties for second degree theft include imprisonment of up to 5 years, fines of up to $10,000, or a combination of both. Second degree theft is charged as a Class C felony; and
  • First Degree Theft: First degree theft is the most serious theft charge in Washington State. First degree theft carries a Class B felony charge. First degree theft occurs when the property alleged to have been stolen is valued at more than $5,000, or when the use of force is involved in the commission of the theft crime. Thus, if an individual committed robbery or burglary, they will be charged with Class B felony. Penalties for first degree theft in Washington State include imprisonment for up to 10 years, fines of up to $20,000, or a combination of both.

As can be seen, the charges for theft crimes in Washington State are serious, and carry heavy penalties. It is important to note that the victim of the crime may also bring a civil suit against the criminal defendant for the civil damages that they suffered due to the commission of the crime.

For example, if an individual defrauds an individual of $10,000, they may face a Class B felony charge, and face a civil lawsuit from the victim for the amount of money taken from the victim of the crime.

Civil lawsuits may also include punitive damages, which would allow the victim of the crime to seek exemplary monetary damages, i.e. damages beyond the amount stolen as a means of punishing the wrongdoer.

Do I Need An Attorney For Washington State Felony?

If you are being accused of felony theft, you should consult with an experienced and local Washington criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney can best provide legal advice based on your state’s specific laws regarding felony theft, as well as your rights and legal options. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.