Being wrongfully accused of theft isn’t just a slap in the face. It’s a threat to your future. That’s because you could do serious time behind bars and face various other penalties if you’re convicted. In other words, you can’t let this slide. False accusations of theft are serious, and they don’t just go away on their own.
You have to fight back if you want to clear your name. As someone who has done nothing wrong, you may be unsure of how exactly you are supposed to fight back. Don’t worry — the attorneys at Will & Will have you covered.
In this post, we cover false theft accusations, what to do if accused of stealing at work, and how you can fight for your future.
False Accusations of Theft
No one would ever ruin someone else’s life by making a false accusation of theft, right? Wrong.
One study found that 6% of convictions for relatively minor crimes like theft are wrongful. That means many people are wrongfully accused of theft. If 6% doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: 8,150 people were sent to prison for theft in Washington state in 2019. This doesn’t even account for jail admissions, but if you take 6% of that number, you see that as many as 489 people might have gone to prison wrongfully.
You do not want to become a part of that statistic. Washington state’s theft laws are fairly broad. Anyone who obtains or exercises control over someone else’s property or services is guilty of theft under state law. As you can see, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. And when the accusations against you are false, you can easily fall under this broad definition of theft.
Punishments for Theft
If you are facing false accusations of theft, you need to have a full understanding of the penalties you might face. There are several levels of theft crimes in Washington, and each carries its own set of punishments:
- Third-degree theft. If you are accused of stealing something worth less than $750, you can be charged with third-degree theft. This is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a $5,000 fine and as long as 364 days in jail, according to the Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A.56.050.
- Second-degree theft. Stealing something worth less than $5,000 but more than $750 can get you charged with second-degree theft. This crime is a Class C felony, which can come with up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000, according to the Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A.56.040.
- First-degree theft. Being wrongfully accused of theft of an item worth more than $5,000 can lead to a first-degree theft charge, a Class B felony. If convicted, you could face a fine as large as $20,000 and as long as 10 years in prison, according to the Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A.56.030.
5 Steps To Take if You’re Wrongfully Accused of Theft
If the unthinkable has already happened and you are facing false accusations of theft, you should know there may be a way out of this. After all, you didn’t do anything wrong. Under the criminal justice system, you should be able to get the truth out in the open.
Here are five steps to take if you have been wrongfully accused of theft in Washington state:
Step 1: Remain Calm
You may already be panicking, but try to stay calm. Panic does nothing for your defense, and you need a clear head to take on this difficult time. Also, no matter how angry you are with the person who falsely accused you, don’t contact them in any way.
Step 2: Look for Evidence
If prosecutors want to put you in prison for this, they are going to have to find some evidence. And they will look for it. You should, too. Because the accusation against you is false, there may be some evidence that proves that you couldn’t have done what you’re accused of. Try to think of any witnesses who can confirm your part of the story, and look for photos, videos, texts, social media, cell phone records, bank records, or anything else that can show your innocence.
Step 3: Understand Your Rights
Despite what the police and your accuser would like you to think, you have rights. That remains true even if you are arrested for a false accusation of theft. A particularly important right in this kind of situation is your right to refuse to speak with the police until your lawyer is present. The police will try to trick you into admitting fault for something you didn’t do, but a lawyer can make sure that doesn’t happen.
Step 4: Don’t Talk
Don’t talk to the police without your lawyer present. That is key when you’re facing false accusations of theft. But really, the “don’t talk” part applies to more than just police. Whether you have already been charged or suspect you will be charged soon, it’s best not to talk to anyone about what happened until you can talk to a lawyer. Remember — someone has already falsely accused you of a crime. Who knows how they might twist your words against you in the future?
Step 5: Work With a Lawyer
If it wasn’t obvious in the first four steps, we will make this clear now: Working with a criminal defense lawyer can be one of the most important steps to fighting a false theft charge. Your lawyer will know exactly what to do to defend you and where to look for evidence. They will stick by your side throughout the criminal process, fighting for the best possible outcome at every step.
All of the above steps apply to theft accusations in general, but there are some unique steps involved in what to do if accused of stealing at work.
What To Do if Accused of Stealing at Work
A lot of false accusations of theft happen in the workplace. People who work together often have tension, and sometimes that tension boils over into a false accusation of a crime. This is an especially stressful situation because, in addition to facing possible fines and jail or prison time, your job is on the line.
The five steps discussed above apply to being wrongfully accused of theft at work. However, there’s one important difference. If you are accused at work, you need to gather some information. Here’s what you need to find out:
- The exact items you are accused of stealing
- Whether you are going to be fired because of the accusation
- Whether your employer plans to do an internal investigation or report the issue to the police
These are all important details to share with your lawyer, but remember to protect yourself as you are asking these questions. It’s best to simply ask the questions and not try to tell your side of the story until your lawyer can weigh in and make sure you won’t accidentally incriminate yourself.
Wrongfully Accused of Theft? Contact Will & Will
False accusations of theft are no joke. You could go to jail or even prison just because someone told a lie about you. At Will & Will, we think that’s just plain wrong. That’s why we work hard every day to help people in your situation.
We are a husband and wife team with decades of legal experience. To put it simply, if you are wrongfully accused of theft, we can help. Find out more by scheduling a free consultation. Call 206-209-5585 or contact us online today.