What Happens if I get caught stealing something from a store in Washington State?

A person is guilty of theft in the third degree if he or she commits theft of property or services which does not exceed seven hundred fifty dollars in value. This is a gross misdemeanor, which comes with a maximum of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Most theft cases arise from loss prevention or store workers perceiving a theft of an item from their store. They’ll continue to watch you, oftentimes watching you pass all cash registers without payment or leaving the store, at which point they confront you and you're caught stealing - allegedly. Usually they’ll bring you back into the store, contact the authorities and briefly detain you until cops arrive. Their account of everything you say is usually relayed to the police, and usually finds its way into a police report. Any surveillance footage of your actions are also usually included in the police report.

At this point, if the police are satisfied from the explanation of store personnel, you will likely be arrested and booked for Theft in the Third Degree. You will be given a citation number and probably be released and receive a court date not far off. You will receive a court date in a municipal or district court for your first appearance or arraignment. (If the amount stolen slightly exceeds $750, the felony Superior Court prosecutors may kick it down to be re-filed as a gross misdemeanor in the lower court as well). At arraignment, it is most common for a not-guilty plea to be entered, and a pre-trial date will be given.

When your lawyer receives discovery and/or the police report, they will do an exhaustive examination of the narrative, the witnesses and the conduct of the police officers during the incident. There are many things that might cause a prosecutor to have a weak theft case. If they have a strong case, there are still avenues to dismissal that your defense attorney might be able to employ.

You need to make sure that you have legal counsel that knows how to navigate a theft case. You may have to do a theft awareness classes, or pay a fee or fines. Sometimes these cases also result in an assault charge if something goes wrong in the confrontation with store personnel. Your criminal history plays a part in this as well, and not every theft case can be dismissed. But with the right attorney and under the right circumstances, you might be able to avoid a conviction on your record.

Featured photo from here, labeled for commercial reuse.

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