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Difference Between Criminal and Civil Theft

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In Washington, it is illegal for any person to take another’s property without the owner’s consent. A theft conviction can result in hefty fines, prison time, and other requirements, such as community service. However, criminal penalties are not the only consequences a defendant could face. In addition to criminal theft charges, the victim may pursue a civil case against the defendant to recover compensation for his or her lost property. If you are facing a theft conviction, understanding the difference between civil and criminal theft is crucial.

What Is Criminal Theft?

Criminal theft is a term that refers to any crime involving stolen personal property without the owner’s consent. The state of Washington responsible for prosecuting these crimes and establishing penalties for specific acts. If the court finds the defendant guilty, There are several types of theft crimes in Washington.

  • First-degree theft is the most serious criminal theft charge a person could receive. A person commits this crime if he or she steals property worth more than $5,000 or steals property directly from another person. First-degree theft is a class B felony punishable by up to $20,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison.
  • Second-degree theft involves stealing property worth less than $5,000 and more than $750. Stealing an access device, such as a card, code, or account number to obtain something of value, also falls into this category. This crime is a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
  • Third-degree theft is the lowest level of theft crime in Washington. This gross misdemeanor involves stealing property worth less than $750. With a conviction, a person could receive up to one year in jail and a fine up to $5,000.

What Is Civil Theft?

Civil theft is not a separate type of theft crime; this term refers to a different process for recovering remedies falling victim to theft. Instead of pressing criminal charges, the victim files a lawsuit against the defendant seeking monetary damages or the recovery of his or her stolen property.

For a person to receive a criminal theft conviction, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. In civil cases, on the other hand, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant more than likely took his or her property. This standard is known as the preponderance of evidence.

The defendant will not face criminal penalties, such as prison time, if a civil court finds him or her liable for theft. However, it’s important to remember that civil lawsuits and criminal convictions involve two separate processes. A victim can pursue civil and criminal theft charges for the same crime.

Do You Need a Lawyer for Theft Charges?

If someone accuses you of theft, you need a Tacoma theft lawyer on your side. Not only could you face fines and jail time, but you may need to pay the victim additional damages if a civil court finds you liable for the theft. An attorney can represent your best interests, providing the following benefits to your case.

  • Knowledge of the Washington court system and criminal laws pertaining to theft.
  • Negotiation skills to advocate for your best possible outcome with prosecutors and other attorneys.
  • Experience representing cases similar to yours, honing skills and strategies that he or she can apply to your defense.

As soon as possible following your arrest, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case. At your consultation, your attorney will evaluate the available evidence and explain your legal options.

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