Compromise of Misdemeanor

Washington’s Compromise of a Misdemeanor statute enables Judges to dismiss certain criminal charges if there is a civil remedy available to the victim. Practically speaking, Compromises most often occur in theft or shoplifting cases, where the victim (usually a store) receives compensation through a civil penalty. However, certain stores have policies against agreeing to Compromises so it is important to consult an attorney about your options. A Compromise is discretionary, meaning the Judge can choose not to grant it, therefore preparing thoroughly prior to presenting materials to the Judge is very important. Compromises may also be available in other types of cases, such as hit and run or assault charges. The key is that the victim have a civil remedy available. In some cases, a Compromise can be a useful tool to negotiate prior to charges being filed.

RCW 4.24.230 Civil Penalties

This statute provides that anyone who steals is liable for a penalty to the owner or seller in the amount of the retail value of the property and a penalty not to exceed $2,850.00 plus an additional penalty of between $100.00 and $650.00.

Applicability to Parents of Minors

The parent of a minor who commits a theft is liable for a civil penalty for the value of the goods not to exceed $1425.00 plus an additional penalty of between $100.00 and $650.00. This means if your minor child (under eighteen) steals something they can be charged with a crime but you will be held financially responsible for compensating the victim for the value of the theft and for the amount of the civil penalty.

What does a Compromise Look Like?

The process of pursuing a Compromise begins by identifying whether or not the crime is one for which a Compromise is available. Certain offenses cannot be compromised so it is important to have an attorney evaluate your case and determine if a Compromise is available. Even if the original charge is one for which a Compromise is not available, your attorney may be able to negotiate for a lesser charge to enable you to take advantage of the Compromise statute. Once the charge is one for which a Compromise is available, your attorney will contact the victim to ensure the civil penalty or damages are paid and begin discussing the potential for a Compromise. It is very important to handle these conversations carefully as the decision of whether or not to agree to a Compromise rests entirely with the victim. Once the victim agrees your attorney will prepare a declaration and a motion to present to the Judge requesting the Compromise resolution. The injured party must acknowledge, in writing, that he or she has received satisfaction for the injury. Upon receipt of materials demonstrating the injured party is in agreement, the court, may, in its discretion, on payment of the costs incurred, order all proceedings to be discontinued and the defendant to be discharged.

Acknowledgement in Writing

The requirement that the victim acknowledge in writing that he or she has received satisfaction for the injury is an essential component of a Compromise. However the acknowledgment can take different forms such as a letter or declaration. Courts and Judges differ on whether the victim must agree to the Compromise. Some require that the victim agree to the Compromise while some will merely accept proof that the civil penalty was paid. Accepting proof that the civil penalty was paid, without agreement, is unusual because, though not necessarily a legal requirement, the court is reluctant to grant a Compromise without the agreement of the victim.

Thorough Preparation

Because the Judge has the option to decline to grant a Compromise even when the prosecutor and victim are in agreement, it is very important to be thoroughly prepared. Just presenting materials demonstrating the victim is in agreement is not sufficient to guarantee the Compromise will be granted. A Compromise is a privilege because it is a quick and relatively easy dismissal of a case. If the Compromise is granted there is no additional court fine imposed, no probation, no jail time, and no conviction. Therefore, Judges want to hear that the person charged with the crime understands the privilege, takes the charges seriously, and will do whatever possible to ensure nothing similar occurs in the future.

What Cases Cannot be Compromised?

In the following cases, the statute prohibits the use of a Compromise of a Misdemeanor:

  • Any offense committed by or upon an officer while in the execution of the duties of his or her office;
  • Any offense committed riotously;
  • Any offense committed with an intent to commit a felony;
  • Any offense committed by one family or household member against another and was a crime of domestic violence;
  • Any offense that does not have a remedy by a civil action.

How will a Compromise affect my criminal record?

If the court grants the Compromise, the case will be dismissed. You will be able to claim, legally, that you have never been convicted of a criminal offense. The Court record will reflect that you were charged with the offense and it was dismissed pursuant to a Compromise. In addition, in some cases, there may be a record with the Washington State Patrol and law enforcement agencies.