Court Should Apply Market Value in Washington Theft Cases

The value of property can affect the degree and seriousness of a Washington theft crime.  In a recent unpublished case, a juvenile challenged his second degree theft conviction, arguing the trial court had used the wrong methodology for determining the value of the property.

A deputy testified he met with the juvenile and his mother after responding to a call reporting a possible theft.  The deputy testified the juvenile admitted he had taken a ring out of his mother’s jewelry box.

A jeweler testified that the replacement cost of the ring was $1,200, based on making a new ring.  The jeweler also testified that used jewelry did not get the same price as new and that the ring might be sold to a jeweler for $340.  A dealer might be able to sell it then for $600 or $700.

The trial court found the ring’s “retail replacement” value was $1,200. The court rejected the defense argument that the ring’s value should be based on a current sale price for the ring, finding the ring’s value was what it would cost to replace it.  The court adjudicated the juvenile guilty of second degree theft.

The juvenile appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the adjudication because the evidence showed the ring’s market value was under $750.

Second degree theft is theft of property with a value greater than $750 but not more than $5,000, with exceptions for firearms and motor vehicles. RCW 9A.56.040.  “Value” is defined as “The market value of the property or services at the time and in the approximate area of the criminal act.” RCW 9A.56.010(21)(a).  Case law has defined “market value” as the price that would be paid by a well-informed buyer to a well-informed seller if neither were obligated to engage in the transaction.

Market value may be established by evidence of the retail price or the price paid if the evidence is not remote in time.  The fact finder must be able to draw inferences of the market value from such evidence.  Case law has held, however, that other evidence, like evidence of replacement cost, is only admissible if the property does not have a market value. State v. Ehrhardt.

There was evidence of market value in this case, however. The jeweler had testified that a jeweler might pay $340 for the ring and then sell it for $600 or $700.  The ring’s market value was therefore between $340 and $700. The trial court improperly relied on the replacement cost when it found the ring was valued at $1,200.

The trial court made a finding as to the ring’s replacement cost, but not its market value.  Without a finding on market value, the findings did not support the juvenile court’s conclusion with regard to the ring’s value.

The appeals court found there was insufficient evidence supporting the adjudication and reversed it.

This case turned on how the value of the ring was calculated. If your child is facing criminal charges, they need a knowledgeable Washington criminal defense attorney on their side. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC, at (206) 622-6562 to set up a consultation.


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