Shoplifting falls under the Theft Laws in Washington State. While there never has been an actual “shoplifting” statute, many years ago, some Counties or Cities would charge the crime as “Theft 3 – Shoplifting.” It was not a correct statement of the law and I have not seen a shoplifting offense charged that way in many years.
Shoplifting is Theft in The Third Degree
What most people think of as “shoplifting” is charged by Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (District Courts / Municipal Courts) as Theft in the Third Degree. In the Revised Code of Washington it appears as 9A.56.050 – the theft of property or services that does not exceed $750 as well as a couple of other scenarios regarding merchandise pallets and beverage crates. Theft in the Third Degree is a Gross Misdemeanor, which means that an individual can be sentenced up to a $5,000.00 fine and up to 365 days in jail. This is also the lowest level of theft, with Theft Two and Theft One both being felonies.
Upon reviewing recent crime data, we noticed that there were quite a few “shoplifting” arrests in 2017. Shoplifting is unusual in that there is often more variation in the why and who commits this crime. The spectrum ranges from a situation that was an accident all the way to Organized Retail Theft.
According to Stacey Gendreau, a former Asset Protection and Profit Manager for both Sears and Target (now a local real estate agent who chases down steals and deals on homes!), organized theft is big and costly. Generally, the “ring leaders” pay a certain sum of money to individuals, usually people dealing with addiction, to go into a store and steal certain items. The shoplifter gives the merchandise to the “leader” and is paid a nominal fee, which is typically used to buy drugs. The security personnel for the stores will watch the shoplifters routinely take the stolen merchandise to the same people and thereby catch the “organized” portion of the ring.
Clearly, to combat the large profit losses due to organized theft, it is imperative that loss prevention get to the root of the problem. And, from a defense attorney’s perspective, we need to know where on the spectrum of “why” the client falls.
What to do if you are accused of Shoplifting
If you or a friend are ever arrested due to shoplifting, it is important to share with your attorney why you think this happened. The best legal representation depends on an honest and open dialogue about criminal history as well as issues impacting a client’s life. If you are involved with an organized theft ring, make sure you disclose this to your attorney. Every case is unique and the defense must reflect the unique circumstances. Furthermore, whenever addiction is the source of the problem, it is in the client’s best interest to share this information so alternative resolutions, such as drug court, can be considered.
Generally speaking, thefts can be resolved in the District and Municipal Courts in a number of ways. Probably the most favorable (and available by statute in all jurisdictions) is a Compromise of Misdemeanor (see our website blog for a discussion on COM). Very simply stated, it is the repayment of the value of the property / service in exchange for the victim signing a document stating that they no longer wish to see the Defendant prosecuted.
Additionally, there are different versions of Diversion Agreements. Pierce County calls them a Continuance Without Findings, Kitsap County calls them Pretrial Diversion Agreements, Jefferson County calls them Motion For Stipulated Order of Continuance. They are basically all the same thing – the Defendant enters into a contract with the Prosecuting Attorney in which the Defendant waives all of their substantial trial rights and waives speedy trial out a number of years. If the Defendant abides by the strict terms of these agreements, the Theft charge would be dismissed. But, if the Defendant violates the terms of the agreement, then the Defendant typically gets convicted of the underlying Theft charge. When a person violates on of these agreements, it is typically because they get arrested for a second crime.
An individual can always set a matter for trial – but that decision can not be taken lightly. That is something a defendant and their attorney should decide after they weigh all the risks of going to trial.
Lastly, a Defendant can plead guilty to a Theft. A person has a right to do that, but we typically discourage it due to the long term negative consequences of having a Theft charge on your record. A theft conviction can preclude you from getting certain jobs or security clearances, and the conviction will most certainly be used against you if you are ever arrested again for another crime.
Finally, this analysis only applies to individuals being charged as adults, if the matter is in Juvenile Court, the penalties and possible resolutions are completely different.
The attorneys at Witt Law Group have been handling Theft 3 or Shoplifing charges around Western Washington since 2004. We have offices in Gig Harbor and Bremerton for your convenience. You can call us anytime for a free consultation at (253) 312-3838 (Gig Harbor) or (360) 792-1000 (Bremerton) or CLICK HERE to fill out our online contact form.