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What Constitutes “Petty Theft” / Theft in the Third Degree?

What are you charged with if you are caught shoplifting or taking something from someone's yard? In the state of Washington, your everyday petty theft crimes are covered by the crime of “theft in the third degree.” Theft in the third degree is the lowest level theft crime in Washington State. However, it is still a crime that carries with it potential for jail time and significant fines. In addition to criminal liability, individuals may also be civilly liable. This page explains the details of the criminal charge of theft in the third degree, as well as looks at the potential penalties for someone charged with this crime.

Theft in the Third Degree

RCW 9A.56.050 defines theft in the third degree as either (1) the theft of “property or services” under $750 in value, or (2) the theft of ten or more “merchandise pallets,” “beverage crates,” or some combination of the two. Each of these two potential situations is explained in further detail below.

a. Theft of Property or Services under $750 in Value:

The most common circumstance where a person will be charged with theft in the third degree occurs when that individual is alleged to have committed a theft of property or services that have less than $750 in value. According to RCW 9A.56.050(1)(a), such a theft constitutes theft in the third degree.

Washington State defines “theft” as engaging in activities related to depriving someone else that of his or her property or services. This includes:

  • Wrongfully obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over someone else's property or services;
  • Obtaining control over someone else's property or services through deceit; or
  • Taking someone else's lost or misdelivered property or services.

It is relatively easy to understand what is meant by the theft of someone else's property – e.g., some physical object owned by that individual – but what does it mean to take someone's services? The common definition in this context involves the performance of duties by someone as a function of their job, like your waiter at a restaurant or the repair technician who comes to your house to install your cable. According to RCW 9A.56.010(15), the “services” that fall under the definition of theft in the third degree if taken with the requisite intent include things like labor, professional services, transportation services, restaurant services, assistance with computers, and even entertainment.

Thus, whether an individual is wrongfully obtaining someone else's property or just taking advantage of their services through some deceitful manner, they can be charged with theft in the third degree, so long as the value of the property or the service is less than $750. If the property or services are worth more, then the more serious crimes of theft in the first degree or theft in the second degree come into play. In addition, Washington State has specifically criminalized the theft of certain types of property as their own separate offenses, including:

b. Theft of Merchandise Pallets or Beverage Crates

In addition to covering the theft of general property or services under $750 in value, the crime of theft in the third degree also covers the theft of the containers that manufacturers and distributors use to transport their goods to and from individual stores. Think of the pallets you see stacked up at groceries stores or the crates used by companies to deliver beverages to convenience stores. These containers are usually branded with a company's logo and have language on the crate stating “property of…,” or “owned by…,” indicating where the products come from. RCW 9A.56.010 further defines “beverage crate” as any plastic or metal box-like container that a manufacturer or distributor uses to transport their individually-packed beverages from warehouses to individual retail outlets. The statute also defines “merchandise pallet” in a similar fashion – describing the wood pallets or plastic carriers used by other non-beverage manufacturers to transfer their products to retail outlets.

RCW 9A.56.050(1)(b) criminalizes the theft of ten or more of these beverage crates, merchandise pallets, or some combination of the two. Individuals who are caught stealing pallets or beverage crates from retailers or distributors could thus also face charges of theft in the third degree.


Under RCW 9A.56.050(2), theft in the third degree is classified as a gross misdemeanor – whether it be the theft of property or services under $750 in value or the theft of beverage crates or merchandise pallets. Anyone convicted of a gross misdemeanor can be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, per RCW 9A.20.021(2). Adult offenders can also be fined up to $5,000 in addition to, or instead of, jail time.

In addition to criminal penalties, individuals who take goods or merchandise from retail stores or distributors may be liable to the store or distributor itself for civil penalties, including fines. See RCW 4.24.230. Also, if the individual who commits the theft is a minor, that minor's parent or legal guardian can be liable to the affected business. It is important to note that, according to RCW 4.24.230(4), it is not necessary to be found guilty of theft in the third degree in order for an individual to face civil liability.

“Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You.”

Petty theft may sound simple, but it is still a charge that carries serious consequences in the form of fines and potential jail time. If you or a loved one has been arrested for, or charged with, theft in the third degree in Western Washington, do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today for help at 206-660-6200. Steve Karimi is a former prosecutor who is committed to putting his insight into prosecution strategies to work for you. He represents people facing misdemeanor and felony charges of all kinds and is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights in criminal court. Consultations are free and confidential.

Contact Us

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.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

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.