A shoplifting or retail theft charge travels on two separate tracks. The first track is the criminal liability and is being prosecuted by the City or State. The second track is the civil liability and is being brought by the retailer. This article is to help explain the Statute on the secondary track regarding civil liability. For more on the criminal liability of a shoplifting charge, you can visit the article Theft in Washington State.
The controlling statute for civil liability is RCW 4.24.230. As you read the statute you can see that it is divided into five sections.
The first section sets forth that if a person deprives a store owner of their goods that person can be liable for a penalty to the owner or seller in the amount of the retail value of the item, no more than two thousand eight hundred fifty dollars. There is an additional penalty of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than six hundred fifty dollars.
The second section restates the first section but also sets forth this legal liability extends to parent or legal guardian having the custody of an unemancipated minor. However, it does not extend to governmental entity, private agency, or foster parent assigned responsibility for the minor child pursuant to court order or action of the department of social and health services.
Section three of the statute provides that the claim can also be assigned. Which means that the store can give away the right to bring the civil claim. As such, a majority of these claims are not brought by the store in which the alleged theft took place. Instead they are brought by a law firm, often not even located in this state.
Section four of the statute sets forth that the criminal and civil claim are each on independent track. The outcome of one does not serve to affect the outcome of the other.
Section five of the statute provides that notices must include the statement, “IMPORTANT NOTICE: The payment of any penalty demanded of you does not prevent criminal prosecution under a related criminal provision.” This is to put the person on notice that even if you make the payment demanded in the letter, it will not prevent prosecution from the State or City in the criminal matter. The important thing to understand is that, despite this disclaimer, the way that the civil matter is negotiated may have an effect on the outcome of the liability in the criminal matter. As such, always let your criminal defense attorney know if you received a notice demanding civil damages.
If you are accused of Shoplifting or Retail Theft in Washington State and being charged in the civil matter
If you are accused of theft in Washington State, it’s advisable to contact an attorney in order to understand your options. Resolutions vary widely and a demand for civil damages can be disputed. If you have further question you can contact your Seattle Criminal Defense Lawyer about shoplifting and retail theft for a free consultation.