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Washington Auto Theft Laws

A theft occurs when a person takes another's property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property. State theft laws often use some form of this general definition, but differ regarding the treatment of general theft compared to auto theft.

Although Washington's general theft law has a provision that criminalizes stealing cars specifically, the state also has separate statutes dealing exclusively with auto theft. The fact that Washington's auto theft laws are governed by distinct statutes apart from the general theft statutes shows that the lawmakers considered auto theft a top priority in the state. Stealing a car or possessing a stolen car constitutes a Class B felony in Washington regardless of the value of the vehicle.

Taking a Motor Vehicle Without Permission

Washington criminalizes the taking of vehicles without permission and divides this crime into two degrees. A first degree violation occurs if the actor takes the vehicle without permission and then changes its appearance or identification, removes its parts with the intent to sell them, crosses state lines for profit, or generally intends to sell the vehicle. Conversely, a second-degree offense requires only that the actor take the vehicle without permission or voluntarily ride in the vehicle, knowing it was unlawfully taken.

Washington Auto Theft Laws: Summary

When you need to know exactly what a law says, you can refer to the complete statute. However, it's also good to get a handle on the law by using an easy-to-follow, condensed guide to the statutes. The chart below does just that as it provides a basic overview of Washington's auto theft laws in plain English.


Washington Revised Code:

  • Section 9A:56.065 (theft of motor vehicle)
  • Section 9A:56.068 (possession of stolen vehicle)
  • Section 9A:56.070 (taking motor vehicle without permission in the first degree)
  • Section 9A:56.075 (taking motor vehicle without permission in the second degree)


Possible Penalties


Criminal Sentences

  • The actual penalties will depend on the specific facts of the case and are determined by the Sentencing Reform Act and state guidelines.
  • Auto theft offenses are generally categorized as Class B felonies, punishable by incarceration for up to 10 years and fines up to $20,000. However, taking a motor vehicle without permission in the second degree is a Class C felony, punishable by incarceration for up to 5 years and fines up to $10,000.

Civil Penalties

Washington allows auto theft victims to sue perpetrators for damages of up to $5,000 and the costs of the suit, including reasonable attorney's fees.

Possible Defenses

  • Mistake of fact
  • Consent

Related Offenses

  • Section 9A:56.063 (making or possessing vehicle theft tools)
  • Section 9A:56.096 (theft of a rental car)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Washington Auto Theft Laws: Related Resources

Contact a Washington Attorney About Your Auto Theft Questions

If you've been accused of auto theft in Washington, you could be looking at substantial time behind bars. Take control of the situation by contacting a Washington criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case, gather evidence, and work toward achieving the best possible outcome.

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