By: South Sound Law Group

Will I Go to Jail for First-Offense Shoplifting?


How Does Washington State Define Shoplifting?

In Washington State, there is not technically a crime called “shoplifting.” Shoplifting is charged as theft, and the degree charged depends upon the value of the stolen property or services.

It’s important to know that many businesses have their own rules and procedures for handling theft within their stores. Larger retailers or malls will have private security that acts as police officers. Some security personnel are off-duty police officers. These guards or store employees may call the police or threaten to. The main goal for the store is to retrieve the items taken, get you to confess (often in writing), and get you to sign a civil agreement to pay back the value of the items taken or some other amount (even if you gave it back). The accused is often told that if they comply with everything the store employee asks them to do, they won’t call the police or face criminal charges. This is not usually true and is a good reason not to sign anything without an attorney present. 

What Are the Different Levels of Theft?

There are three degrees of theft and a separate special category that can be combined with one of these degrees.

First degree: This is a class B felony. The maximum sentence is ten years in prison and/or a fine of $20,000. In terms of shoplifting types of theft, this degree involves property that exceeds $5,000 in value (other than a firearm).

Second degree: This is a class C felony. The maximum sentence is five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000. In terms of shoplifting types of theft, this degree includes property between $750 and $5,000 in value (other than a firearm) or having and using an access device.

Third degree: This is a gross misdemeanor. The maximum sentence is 364 days in jail and/or a $5,0090 fine. In terms of shoplifting types of theft, this degree includes property that does not exceed $750 in value. 

What Is Retail Theft With Special Circumstances?

Retail theft with special circumstances is an additional charge that can be applied. There are three potential aspects to this additional charge.

  • To complete the theft, the person left the retailer through a designated emergency exit.
  • At the time of the theft, the person had things designed to overcome security systems, including, but not limited to, lined bags or tag removers.
  • The person committed theft at three or more separate and distinct retailers within one hundred eighty days.

How serious retail theft with special circumstances can be is directly tied to the seriousness level of a regular theft charge. It comes down to the value of the items or services stolen. Someone charged with theft in the first degree can also be charged with retail theft in the first degree. That increases the possibility of severe prison time, fines, and restitution.

Will I Have to Go to Jail for a First Theft Offense?

Because of the high number of variables, it’s impossible to give a “yes or no” answer. The best chance someone in this situation has is to get an experienced theft attorney involved as soon as possible and not sign any statements or confessions the retailer wants them to. 

Let Us Advise You

If you or someone you know has been charged with a first-time theft, call us at 253-383-3328 to learn your rights. If a retailer accuses you, they nearly always will send you a letter saying you need to pay a specified amount of money or face severe consequences. In general, these are not legally enforceable documents, and signing or paying the amount they want won’t necessarily allow you to escape criminal charges either. Always talk to an attorney before taking any action.