Padden bill cracking down on retail theft is signed into law

OLYMPIA – A bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden that toughens penalties for retail theft was signed into law Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Senate Bill 5635 makes it easier for prosecutors to seek longer sentences for retail-theft crimes, by expanding the application of “special circumstances” sentence enhancements.

Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said the measure gives prosecutors new tools to crack down on thefts from stores.

“Retail theft is a growing problem, and it calls for new approaches,” Padden said. “This crime affects the bottom line for merchants across the state, and it drives up prices for all of us. Tougher penalties will help deter criminals who might move on to commit more-dangerous crimes.”

Under the new law, suspects caught with any type of burglary tool can be charged with a special-circumstances crime and given a longer sentence. Sentences in such cases can range as high as a Class B felony when $5,000 or more is taken, allowing a prison sentence of one to three months for a first offender, and a $20,000 fine.

The bill addresses a problem created by a 2015 state Supreme Court decision, which held that burglary tools must specifically be designed to defeat security systems. The court said an ordinary pair of wire cutters did not qualify.

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.