OLYMPIA – A bill making it easier for prosecutors to crack down on retail theft won final passage in the Senate Monday, sending the measure to the governor’s desk.
The 47-1 vote in the Senate on Senate Bill 5635 caps a session-long effort by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, to toughen the state’s law against retail theft with special circumstances.
“Every time somebody steals something from a store, it drives up prices for the rest of us,” said Padden, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the bill’s sponsor. “Retail theft has been growing dramatically in recent years, and it is time we take further steps to combat the problem.”
Currently the state allows longer sentences under aggravating circumstances — among them the possession of burglary tools. But a 2015 decision by the state Supreme Court, State v. Larson, held that the tools must be specifically designed to defeat security systems. It ruled that an ordinary pair of wire cutters did not qualify for a special-circumstances sentence enhancement.
SB 5635 plugs that hole. Offenders caught with tools with an intent to commit retail theft may be charged with a special-circumstances crime.
Under the crime of retail theft with special circumstances, the value of the property stolen determines the severity of the sentence – as high as a Class B felony when $5,000 or more is taken, with a sentence of one to three months for a first offense, and a $20,000 fine.
The bill also allows prosecutors to combine offenses committed by a single person over a period of six months into a single count, and use the total figure to determine the level of enhancement. Businesses may request that theft charges be aggregated, and prosecutors must justify their decision if they do not.
“Retail theft is a particular problem for small business,” Padden said. “Small steps like these can have a big effect, in taking habitual criminals off the street, reducing the overall crime rate, and helping deter criminals who might otherwise move on to bigger and more-dangerous crimes.”