Under Washington law, you can be prosecuted for a crime if you fail to properly return a rental car. While the specific penalties for the offense will vary depending on the value of the rental car, you could face felony charges punishable by up to ten years in prison. Please contact a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney now if you or a loved one is facing any type of theft crime.

What is the Washington Law on Not Returning a Rental Car?

RCW 9A.56.020 is Washington’s main statute that outlines the crime of theft. According to this law, you commit a theft crime if you fail to return a rental car at the time and in the manner agreed upon in the rental contract.

Consider, for example, the scenario where you are renting a car while on a vacation. You decide to extend your trip for a few days, but never contact the rental agency to check on the extension of your rental contract. Once the time passes when you were supposed to return your car, the rental company can contact the authorities and report you for stealing the auto.

What are the Penalties?

The penalties for not returning a rental car will depend on the value of the rental vehicle. The theft of a rental car worth $750 or less, for example, constitutes theft in the third degree, which is a gross misdemeanor under state law. It is punishable by up to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

If the rental vehicle is worth between $750 and $5,000, the crime is theft in the second degree, which is a Class C felony. This means that the person charged may face as much as 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

If the car is worth more than $5,000, the crime becomes theft in the first degree, which is a Class B felony. This means that the person charged may face as much as 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines.

Can a Defendant Raise a Legal Defense?

Yes. You have the right to challenge a theft charge with a legal defense. A common defense in these cases is to prove that you did contact the rental company to make different arrangements for returning the rental car. You should have a valid defense if you can show that the rental company agreed to you returning the rental car in a manner different than was originally laid out in the rental agreement.

Another defense is for you to show that you could not return your rental car on time because of an emergency. For example, a judge would likely dismiss your case if you can show that you were not able to return your vehicle because:

  • You were in an emergency room,
  • You were rendering emergency care to another person, or
  • Your rental car broke down or experienced mechanical issues.

Contact Black & Askerov for Help

While a defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge a theft charge, it will take a skilled criminal defense attorney to raise the best defense. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Black & Askerov have over 30 years of combined experience defending clients on various theft and robbery charges. Our Seattle criminal defense lawyers also have the skill and commitment that makes all the difference in these cases. Our attorneys will fight tooth and nail for you at every step of your case. Contact us now to get the legal help you deserve!