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Washington lawmakers take on flashmob robberies

Washington's Senate recently took on a problem that many of the state's citizens have likely never heard of: flashmob robberies, also known as "flash robs." On March 12, the Senate voted 49-0 to create new criminal charges related to this increasingly "popular" method of organized retail theft. The bill must now be cleared through the House.

Flash robs occur when large groups of people suddenly converge on a store and steal whatever they feel like before quickly leaving. These retail thefts are basically unstoppable due to the overwhelming multitude of offenders. Though Washington hasn't had issues with these types of crimes, lawmakers hoped to "nip it in the bud" after an Oregon television station broadcast a video of one of these robberies occurring in Portland.

There are currently two levels of organized retail theft on the books, and if the new law passes, a whole new level would be added to account for flash robberies. The law would focus on organized thefts that resulted in $500 worth of losses. These thefts would have to occur in combination with the robbery either being organized through social media or other electronic means or involving more than five people. The first time a person faced these charges, he or she would face a gross misdemeanor charge. A second charge, however, would land the defendant in the realm of a Class C felony.

Any type of retail theft is considered a crime, but lawmakers have come to the conclusion that flash robberies present an additional threat to society. These new laws could take a person who only stole $20 worth of items and group them together with others who stole a combined amount of $500. While these laws are meant to prevent a growing social problem, they're likely to end with serious criminal penalties for those who would've otherwise simply gotten slaps on the wrists. Fighting these charges may seem like an uphill battle, but an experienced criminal lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea bargain on behalf of the client or mitigate the consequences for a first-time offender.

Source: Crosscut.com, "Bill tackles problem you didn't know you had: Flashmob robberies," John Stang, March 13, 2013

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