Auto Theft In Washington: A Guide

by ECL Writer
Is Car Theft A Felony In Washington State?

Auto theft in Washington is a serious crime that can have significant consequences for both the victim and the perpetrator. In Washington State, the laws surrounding auto theft are complex and can be difficult to navigate. As a car owner, it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to protecting your vehicle from theft, as well as the legal implications of being involved in a car theft case.

This Eastcoastlaws.com article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of auto theft in Washington, including the different types of auto theft, the penalties for committing auto theft, and the steps you can take to protect yourself and your vehicle. Whether you are a car owner or simply interested in learning more about auto theft laws, this guide will give you the information you need to stay informed and protected.

What Is Considered Auto Theft In Washington?

Auto theft in Washington is defined as the intentional taking or driving of someone else’s vehicle without their permission. This includes taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, taking a vehicle by force or threat of force, and taking a vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property. Auto theft can also include the unauthorized use of a vehicle, such as joyriding or borrowing a car without the owner’s permission.

There are several different types of auto theft that are recognized under Washington law. These include:

  • First-degree auto theft: This is the most serious type of auto theft and involves the theft of a motor vehicle that is valued at $10,000 or more or the theft of a motor vehicle that is used in the commission of another crime.
  • Second-degree auto theft: This involves the theft of a motor vehicle that is valued at less than $10,000 or the theft of a motor vehicle that is not used in the commission of another crime.
  • Motor vehicle prowling: This involves the act of entering a motor vehicle with the intent to commit a crime, such as theft or vandalism.

The Following Groups Of Crimes Include The Theft Of Vehicles In Washington:

Theft of a Motor Vehicle (9A.56.065):

Stealing a motor vehicle, regardless of its value, constitutes the offense of theft of a motor vehicle.
Theft of a motor vehicle is categorized as a class B felony and carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and a fine of $20,000. However, the actual penalties for theft crimes in Washington are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act, RCW 9.94A, and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines.

Possession of a Stolen Vehicle (9A.56.068):

Possessing a stolen motor vehicle, regardless of its value, is considered possession of a stolen vehicle.
Possession of a stolen automobile is a class B felony that carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. The specific penalties for theft crimes in Washington, however, are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act, RCW 9.94A, and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines.

Taking a Motor Vehicle without Permission in the 1st Degree (9A.56.070)

Intentionally taking a vehicle without the owner’s permission and altering it to change its appearance or identification, removing parts with the intent to sell them, transporting the vehicle across state lines for profit, or intending to sell the vehicle constitutes the offense of TMV in the 1st Degree.
TMV in the 1st Degree is a class B felony and carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in jail and a fine of $20,000. The actual penalties for theft crimes in Washington are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act, RCW 9.94A, and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines.

Taking a Motor Vehicle without Permission in the 2nd Degree (9A.56.075)

Intentionally taking a vehicle without the owner’s permission or voluntarily riding in a vehicle with knowledge that it was unlawfully taken constitutes the offense of TMV in the 2nd Degree.
TMV in the 2nd Degree is classified as a class C felony and carries a maximum punishment of 5 years in jail and a fine of $10,000. The Sentencing Reform Act, RCW 9.94A, and the Washington State Sentencing Guidelines set forth particular punishments for theft crimes in Washington.

Making or Possessing Motor Vehicle Theft Tools (9A.56.063)

The act of making, using, or possessing a tool specifically intended for motor vehicle theft, with the intent to use or employ it in the commission of a motor vehicle theft, is considered the offense of Making or Possessing Motor Vehicle Theft Tools.
Motor vehicle theft tools can include various items such as slim jims, false master keys, altered keys, lock-picking tools, or any other tool or implement intended for use in motor vehicle theft, as determined by the circumstances. RCW 9.92.020 states that Making or Possessing Motor Vehicle Theft Tools is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 365 days in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Carjacking

Carjacking is prohibited under Washington law, specifically within its robbery statute. Carjacking occurs when an individual unlawfully takes a motor vehicle from another person or in their presence, against their will, through the use or threatened use of immediate force, violence, or by instilling fear of injury to the victim, someone else, or their property.

If the offender is armed with or displays a deadly weapon or inflicts bodily injury, they are charged with first-degree robbery. First-degree robbery is considered a class A felony, with potential penalties of life imprisonment and a fine of $50,000. In cases where no deadly weapon is involved and no bodily injury is inflicted, the offense is classified as a class B felony. Defendants convicted of second-degree robbery may face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.

(Washington Revised Code, Sections 9A.56.190, .200, .210, 2020)

Penalties For Auto Theft In Washington

The penalties for auto theft in Washington can vary depending on the circumstances of the crime and the severity of the offense. Generally speaking, first-degree auto theft is a Class B felony, while second-degree auto theft and motor vehicle prowling are Class C felonies. The penalties for these offenses are as follows:

  • First-degree auto theft: A Class B felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
  • Second-degree auto theft: A Class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Motor vehicle prowling: A Class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

In addition to these penalties, individuals who are convicted of auto theft may also face other consequences, such as the loss of their driver’s license, the requirement to pay restitution to the victim, and the forfeiture of any property that was used in the commission of the crime.

Defenses for auto theft charges in Washington

If you have been charged with auto theft in Washington, there are several defenses that you may be able to use to fight the charges. Some common defenses for auto theft include:

  • Lack of intent: If you did not intend to steal the vehicle, or if you believed that you had the owner’s permission to take the vehicle, you may be able to argue that you did not commit the crime of auto theft.
  • Mistaken identity: If you have been falsely accused of auto theft, you may be able to argue that you were not the person who committed the crime.
  • Entrapment: If law enforcement officers coerced you into committing auto theft, you may be able to argue that you were entrapped and should not be held responsible for the crime.

It is important to note that the defenses available to you will depend on the specific circumstances of your case and that the best way to determine your options is to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Reporting And Recovering A Stolen Vehicle In Washington

If your vehicle has been stolen in Washington, the first step you should take is to report the theft to law enforcement as soon as possible. You can do this by contacting your local police department or sheriff’s office, or by calling 911 if you believe that the theft is in progress. When you report the theft, you should provide as much information as possible about the vehicle, including the make, model, and license plate number, as well as any identifying features or accessories that may help law enforcement locate the vehicle.

Once you have reported the theft, law enforcement will begin an investigation and may be able to recover your vehicle. If your vehicle is recovered, you will be notified by law enforcement who will be able to retrieve your vehicle once it has been processed for evidence. If your vehicle is not recovered, you may be able to file a claim with your insurance company to be reimbursed for the value of the vehicle.

Prevention Tips For Auto Theft In Washington

While there is no foolproof way to prevent auto theft, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim. Some effective prevention tips for auto theft include:

  • Lock your vehicle: Always lock your vehicle when you are not using it, and make sure that all windows and doors are securely closed.
  • Park in well-lit areas: Whenever possible, park your vehicle in well-lit areas that are visible to others. Avoid parking in isolated areas or areas that are known for high crime rates.
  • Install anti-theft devices: Consider installing anti-theft devices, such as steering wheel locks, alarms, or GPS tracking systems. These devices can help deter thieves and make it easier to recover your vehicle if it is stolen.
  • Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle: Avoid leaving visible valuables in your vehicle, such as electronics, cash, or jewelry. Thieves are more likely to target vehicles that appear to contain valuable items.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: When entering or exiting your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings and look for any suspicious activity. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it to law enforcement immediately.

By following these prevention tips, you can help reduce your risk of becoming a victim of auto theft in Washington.

Role Of Law Enforcement In Combating Auto Theft In Washington

In Washington State, law enforcement plays a critical role in combating auto theft and recovering stolen vehicles. The Washington State Patrol operates a dedicated Auto Theft Unit, which works with local law enforcement agencies to investigate auto theft cases and recover stolen vehicles. The Auto Theft Unit also provides training and resources to law enforcement agencies to help them better prevent and investigate auto theft.

In addition to law enforcement efforts, the Washington State Legislature has also taken steps to combat auto theft in the state. In 2007, the legislature passed the Auto Theft Prevention Authority Act, which established a statewide program to prevent auto theft and promote the recovery of stolen vehicles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Auto Theft In Washington

Q: Is joyriding considered auto theft in Washington?

A: Yes, joyriding is considered a form of auto theft in Washington.

Q: Can I be charged with auto theft if I borrowed a friend’s car without their permission?

A: Yes, borrowing a vehicle without the owner’s permission is considered auto theft in Washington.

Q: What should I do if I witness a car theft in progress?

A: If you witness a car theft in progress, you should call 911 immediately and provide as much information as possible about the theft and the location of the vehicle.

Hiring An Attorney For Auto Theft Charges In Washington

If you have been charged with auto theft in Washington, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you. An attorney can help you understand your rights and options and can work to build a strong defense on your behalf. Your attorney can also negotiate with prosecutors to try to reduce your charges or sentence or can take your case to trial if necessary.

Conclusion

Auto theft is a serious crime that can have significant consequences for all involved. By understanding the auto theft laws in Washington and taking steps to protect yourself and your vehicle, you can help reduce your risk of becoming a victim of this crime. If you have been charged with auto theft, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the best possible outcome for your case.

Leave a Comment

This blog is ONLY for informational or educational purposes and DOES NOT substitute professional legal advise. We take no responsibility or credit for what you do with this info.