Shoplifting in Spokane County: the Crime and Punishment

What is the proper punishment for shoplifting?  David Warriner, an unemployed man, stole four cans of sardines, shaving cream and razors from a Rite Aid in downtown Spokane, and he was sentenced to 29 months in prison.   See article.  A day later in the newspaper, I read about Father Tim Jones’ opinion on shoplifting.  See article.  Father Tim Jones created a stir by offering the following advice to the desperately poor:

“My advice as a Christian priest is to shoplift…. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. …  I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses — knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices….”

What would Father Tim Jones say about a 29 month prison sentence for stealing sardines?  Certainly Rite Aid would qualify as one of the “large national businesses.”   Spokane Deputy Prosecutor David Stevens sought the lengthy sentence on David Warriner because of Warriner’s extensive criminal history.   In fact, Warriner was originally charged with Burglary – not because he broke in to Rite Aid, but because he had been asked not go into Rite Aid again, anywhere in the country.  This arguably would meet the elements of burglary under RCW 9A.52.030 which defines the crime as entering a building unlawfully with the intent of committing a crime therein.  David Warriner entered a plea deal down to felony theft second degree, even though the items he stole were just worth $32.

The ethics of what a suitable punishment is for such a crime create an interesting issue.  However, I will leave that for others to debate.  My question is this: Can we as a society really afford to house a man in prison for 2 1/2 years simply for stealing sardines?  Is it good judgment for a public official to decide to expend the State’s resources to punish David Warriner in this manner?  The legislature has been forced to release violent criminals back onto the streets due to budget restraints.  It used to be that inmates only received 1/6 to 1/3 “good time” off their sentence.  Olympia has now been forced to give most inmates 1/2 time off their sentence for good behavior.  When a prosecutor seeks a certain sentence for a defendant, this does not occur in a vacuum.  Any inmate serving 2 1/2 years for stealing sardines is taking up a prison bed that could be used for a dangerous sex offender.  It may be that prosecutor David Stevens had his reasons in this particular case, but I use this instance to discuss the greater problem that I see, prosecutors often not looking a the bigger picture.   (Last month, I blogged about prison sentences and budget cut backs here).   When I looked up the Washington sentencing guidelines, it appears that David Warriner faced a standard range of 22-29 months.  Judge Maryann Moreno had the discretion to sentence Warriner to only 22 months in prison, but decided on a sentence of 29 months.  The Judge explained to Warriner: “Your past history is the reason why you’re going to prison …. We generally don’t send people to prison for this type of crime unless they come in with a history like yours.”  The article did not mention who Mr. Warriner’s criminal defense lawyer was.

What do you think?  Should Judge Maryann Moreno have considered a lighter sentence?  Shoplifting usually receives a punishment of anywhere from a day or two to maybe thirty days.  What about other minor crimes such as fishing without a license, or possession of drug paraphernalia, or public intoxication?  If a person has a lengthy record, should the prosecutor in Spokane County seek to impose the maximum punishment allowed by law?

11 Responses to “Shoplifting in Spokane County: the Crime and Punishment”

  • D-Man:

    I think Judge Moreno got it right, this moron knew better than to steal a can of sardines, and that “priest” should be defrocked for suggesting such tomfoolery. Rite Aid does not have to put up with theft any more than I do, and as to you Graham, you are right that sentences may have increased somewhat (as you note in your 11/24 article) but if you knew your history, you would know that even shoplifting was a capital offense up until the Victorian times. Soooooooo, Maryann Moreno got this case right, and I myself cannot think of any better way for my tax dollars being spent then incarcerating the likes of David Warriner.

  • Dave:

    As you note, he was charged with Burglary in the Second Degree. Because he was looking at Theft 2 with a range of 22 to 29, you know he has at least 9 prior felonies. You don’t note that Burg 2 with nine priors has a standard range of 51 to 68 months. You note that he received 29 months and that he’ll get half off but go on to say he’ll do 2 1/2 years. You know that he’ll do about a year. Why are you lying about how much time he’ll do? The original story mentions his multistate criminal history as incredible and over 30 years of felonies and misdemeanors. The origianl story mentions an escape he was involved in led to a law enforcement officer’s death. You question whether a prosecutor should go for the maximum punishment allowed by law, but of course that’s exactly what DIDN’T HAPPEN in this case. Balancing everything, 29 months for a career criminal looking at up to 68 months isn’t bad. The reporter who wrote the original story gave relevant information and wrote a balanced piece. You didn’t.

  • Steve Graham:

    No one would look at this as a burglary other than a prosecutor. Technically it might be, that doesn’t justify wasting a jail bed for something so trivial. I stand by everything i wrote. I don’t care if he had ten murder convictions in his history – the time to punish him for those crimes came and went. Also, i do provide a link to the news article in my post. I don’t write balanced pieces, or any kind of pieces. I am not a journalist – i am a blogger.

    • angry aunt:

      Judge Moreno has things backwards! She would do this to someone for shoplifiting but yet my Neice was raped and the person who did it had no priors so she let them out while they were awaiting trial and they reoffended and were rearrested and she STILL gave them the minumim sentence!! I would rather my tax dollors house a rapist then a shoplifter!!

  • Dave:

    You don’t care about his criminal history, but the SRA seems to think past felonies are relevant. Stores that trespass customers that continually steal from them seem to think it’s a burglary too. You don’t respond to why you lied about how much time he’ll do and mischaracterized whether the maximum sentence allowed by law was sought. Seems to me that you not only think that bloggers don’t have to fair, but also believe that they don’t have to be truthful or get the facts right.

  • Stoli:

    I just found this post and this is a riot! And it was written before you even announced you were a candidate. Its a funny blog post because you would think that it would be every prosecutor candidate’s dream to have posts written about how tough they were! Accusing Grahm of lying is pretty silly David Stevens. I think you are too thin-skinned to serve as an elected official in my opinion.

    • Dave:


      So if someone is lying…. I should just ignore his distortions and lies because the guy makes me look tough. Really, being tough and being tough and smart are different things.

  • MomofTroubledTeen:

    People who shoplift may have severe deppression and impulsive behavior from being mentally ill
    Teens act out and steal for the thrill and might be suicidal or come from very poor families-teen girls may have no self-esteem and feel that if only they wear a better clothes they will be accepted but have no money
    THe issues of shoplifting are complex and living in a world of those who are educated with good jobs and money and homes having NO compassion for the issues that people face that put them into desperate illegal activities will understand
    However I don’t condone stealing and many are just greedy and not law abiding-each situation with each one who commits a crime is different.

  • MomofTroubledTeen:

    Should stupid mistakes
    rob a young adult of ever being able to have a future job or go to College-Sometimes the offender WANTS to make a change and does yet isn’t able to get work over an impulsive mistake they made when they were young
    Severe poverty and deppression is a plaque of many young people. Society tells them they must look a certain way and get lots of matierial items for success…pressure pressure pressure
    Not everyone by osmosis knows how life works when they don’t have a father and mother who are there helping them learn and be responsible adults
    Then they make mistakes and are labeled and treated like low life criminals
    The heart conditon is what makes someone bad-if they are sorry and change thier course without commiting further crimes and are given the resources to get educated and be a good citizen then they shouldn’t be thrown in Jail and treated like they are BAD forever.

  • I am hearing that the Colville Tribes recently offered Mr. Stevens a position as their head public defender. While I think the “orientation” displayed by seeking a prison term for this offense may be precisely what the Tribes’ representatives wanted, how on earth can a person with this apparent orientation be hired as a defense lawyer?

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
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