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States Differ In What They Consider Felony Theft v. Misdemeanor Theft

Posted by Steve Karimi | Aug 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

In the United States, each state has developed its own body of criminal law. While there are many similarities between the laws of each state, there are also many differences. One state may criminalize certain conduct while another may permit the same actions. For example, while in many states marijuana is either outlawed altogether or only permitted for medical use, states like Washington have legalized the recreational use of the drug. Thus, a person in Seattle can smoke pot and not be arrested but if an individual in Arizona did the same thing, they could face criminal charges.

Another area where states can differ is whether a crime is classified as a felony or a misdemeanor. This classification affects the severity of the penalty for the offense, among other things. The ABA Journal recently ran an article originally published by The Marshall Project that looked at when each state considered theft to be a felony crime rather than a misdemeanor offense. The distinction is important because felonies generally carry harsher sentences.

Whether theft is considered a felony or a misdemeanor largely depends on the amount the stolen goods cost. In some states the threshold amount is fairly low: Virginia and New Jersey only require that the cost of the goods stolen be $200 or more in order for the offense to be charged as a felony. Florida also has a lower felony threshold amount at $300 and in Massachusetts it's just $250. In Georgia, by contrast, a theft of goods in the $200 - $300 range would only be considered a misdemeanor. In that state, theft is not a felony offense until the stolen items total at least $1,500. In other states, the felony threshold amount is even higher, with the highest amount being in Texas and Wisconsin at $2,500.

The lower threshold amounts are troubling because the cost of goods has risen significantly in the years since the threshold was first set, but the threshold hasn't been increased to keep up with inflation in many states. For example, Virginia has had the same law since 1980. According to The Marshall Project, in June 1980, “$200 had the purchasing power of about $600 in today's currency.” By contrast, other states have increased the felony threshold amount over the years, like Alaska and Louisiana. These increases are essential, according to advocates, in order to make sure that “the punishments fit the crimes.”

In Washington, the felony threshold amount is on the lower side. In this state, theft becomes a felony when the value of the items stolen exceeds $750. If the goods or services stolen are valued at under $750, this can be charged as theft in the third degree, which is a gross misdemeanor. The criminal penalties for this offense can include up to one year in the county jail, a fine of $5,000, or both. If the value of the goods or services do exceed the $750 threshold then the offense can be charged as theft in the second degree, which is a Class C felony. The maximum punishment for a Class C Felony can be up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both a fine and time behind bars. In addition, it is important to note that the theft of certain types of items, such as firearm or a motor vehicle, can also constitute a felony.

If you have been charged with theft in Washington, whether it be for a misdemeanor crime or a felony offense, contact attorney Steve Karimi today for a free case consultation.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.