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Petty Theft in Washington State

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Theft is a crime where one person takes someone else’s property without his or her permission, with the intent to deprive that person of the property. Many people wonder about the difference between the categories of theft in Washington law, including the penalties and thresholds associated with each charge. While all types of thefts are crimes in Washington state, there are varying levels of severity for each case, and law enforcement officers will assign charges based on the circumstances.

Different Types of Theft Charges in Washington

Washington recognizes three degrees of theft charges, each with its own criteria and consequences. If law enforcement officers arrest you on suspicion of theft in Washington, they will charge you with one of the following three crimes.

  • Third-degree theft, also known as petty theft, occurs when the alleged stolen property does not exceed $750 in value. If the prosecutors convict you of this charge, you can receive up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year in jail, or both. Third-degree petty theft is a gross misdemeanor crime.
  • Second-degree theft occurs when the alleged stolen property is more than $750 in value and less than $5,000 in value. This excludes firearms and motor vehicles, which the state charges as separate crimes. Second-degree thefts also include stolen access devices, which can include credit cards, account numbers, and other codes to obtain access to goods and funds. Penalties for this crime include up to 5 years in prison, a fine up to $10,000, or both. Second-degree theft is a Class C felony.
  • First-degree theft is the most serious theft charge, prosecuted as a Class B felony. If the alleged stolen property is more than $5,000 in value or you allegedly took the property from the victim directly, excluding firearms and motor vehicles, the police will charge you with this crime. Penalties for first-degree theft in Washington include up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $20,000, or both.

What Happens After a Theft Arrest in Washington?

The moments after a theft arrest can be overwhelming and confusing. You may want to defend yourself as quickly and as honestly as possible — but doing so could lead to consequences later on in your case. As soon as the arrest occurs, exercise your right to remain silent, comply with the police, and repeatedly ask for your attorney.

After an arrest, law enforcement officers may hold you at the station for questioning, fingerprinting, and other documentation processes. The police may release you with or without bail, but they typically cannot hold you for more than 24 hours. After release, you will have to attend an arraignment where the judge will read you your charges and ask you to enter into a plea of guilty or not guilty. Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action to take.

After the arraignment, the court will either require you to post bail in order to leave, eliminate your ability to post bail and send you back to jail if you are a flight risk, or allow you to leave without assigning bail. Your attorney will begin to work with you to determine your best legal options and strategize your next steps. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may enter into negotiations with the prosecution, discuss plea bargains, or begin collecting evidence for your defense ahead of the trial. If you have not hired a criminal defense attorney for your theft case in Washington, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. It may be tempting to enter the criminal process without an attorney or while using a court-appointed defender — but hiring your own can provide significant benefits for your case. Contact your lawyer immediately after your arrest to discuss your legal options.

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