State v. Linehan

The Facts

Defendant’s bank failed to reduce defendant’s personal checking account balance after he wrote a check to transfer funds into a partnership account. Defendant failed to tell his bank about the mistake and used the money.

Procedural History

The Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the conviction.


The theft statutes are structured differently than other crimes which are the crimes within the statutes delineating the degrees. The statutes describing the degrees of theft do not provide alternative means of committing the crime, nor do they define the crime. Rather, the crime of theft is defined in terms of the alternative means of commission, in a statute separate from those defining the degrees of theft.

The terms “wrongfully obtain” and “exert unauthorized control” are referred either as theft by taking or as theft by deception [Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.56.020(1)(a) and (b)]. The second one is actually embezzlement [Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.56.010(7)(b) (1998)]. Theft can be an alternative means of committing other crimes whereas embezzlement is not and defined by terms “wrongfully obtaining” and “exerting unauthorized control”.

The Issue

Whether the initial trial court’s conviction of first degree theft under Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.56.020 was correct judgment.

The Holding/Reasoning

The Supreme Court of Washington held that there was sufficient evidence of conviction using other definitions for the alternative means. Hence, as the Court admitted “any error in defining one alternative means of committing first degree theft was harmless…  What was commonly referred to as “embezzlement” was merely one of the three ways to “wrongfully obtain” or “exert unauthorized control.”

Further, The Supreme Court of Washington asserted that the statutory definition of embezzlement does not create additional alternative means of committing an offense. “There is no requirement that the jurors agree on the facts supporting the alternative means”.

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