State v. Larson – Washington State Supreme Court

11 Mar State v. Larson – Washington State Supreme Court

In State v. Larson, the Washington Supreme Court reviewed the question of whether ordinary wire cutters meet the elements of retail theft as an item or device “designed to overcome security systems.” This issue has been debated by lower courts and attorneys for quite some time. Prior to this case, the majority of lower courts had held that ordinary tools, such as wire cutters, a pocket knife or scissors had been sufficient to meet this definition of a device “designed to overcome security systems” and therefore elevated what might ordinarily be a simple misdemeanor theft to a felony based only on the possession of one of these tools.

The Supreme Court held that the language of the statute showed a clear legislative intent that for an item or device to be one that is “designed to overcome security systems” it must be created -either by the manufacturer or the defendant – with the specific purpose of disabling or evading security systems.

The Court went on to find that the ordinary, unmodified, wire cutters that were in the defendant’s possession at the time of the theft did not meet these specific requirements and therefore there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of retail theft.

This case is extremely helpful from a defense standpoint as it provides a new basis to challenge retail theft cases where the elevated charge is based solely on the possession of an ordinary, unmodified tool, such as wire cutters, a pocket knife or scissors.