Being accused of a crime is a scary proposition. It’s perfectly natural to wonder what will happen and how it will affect your life, your family or your job. Theft offenses can cover a wide range of conduct and potential punishment so, if you’re being accused of committing one, it’s important to understand some of those differences.
Theft offenses are defined in Washington Code Section 9A.56.020. And while the idea of a theft offense may seem simple initially, they can become quite complex. To commit the offense, one must obtain or exert unauthorized control over something they do not own. This often means actually taking something, but not always – it’s possible to have the legal authority to use something in a limited way but, if it’s used beyond that authority, a theft can result.
Though theft usually relates to physical property, it doesn’t have to. One can commit a theft which only involves services. For example, staying in a hotel room and then leaving without paying. Other common terms associated with specific types of theft offenses include shoplifting, embezzlement, burglary and vehicle theft. Regardless of the type, it’s not enough to simply possess the property in question; there must also be an intent to deprive the owner of that property.
Washington classifies theft offenses as either misdemeanors or felonies. Most of the time, how the theft is classified depends on the value of the property, but not always. Theft of things like cars or guns can be felonies regardless of their value. But for standard theft offenses, if the value is less than $750, it will be a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Anything over $750 can be classified as a felony, with punishment including a sentence to state prison.