Defining Theft in the District of Columbia
In the District of Columbia, a person commits the offense of theft when he or she "wrongfully obtains or uses" another person's property while having the intent:
- to deprive the other person of his or her right to the property (or to benefit of the property, i.e. income derived from it), or
- to appropriate the property for the offender's own (or for the use of a third person). (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3211.)
The following actions qualify as theft under District of Columbia law:
- taking or exercising control over property
- making an unauthorized use or transfer of an interest in property, or
- obtaining property by trick, false pretense, false token, tampering, or deception.
Theft may involve property or services. In D.C., when the subject of the theft offense is services, proof of theft is shown when:
- the offender knew or had reason to believe that the services were available only for compensation
- it was customary for payment to be made at the time of the services, and
- the person left the premises knowing or having reason to believe that payment had not been made.
District of Columbia law also sets out a few more specific types of theft offenses, including:
- shoplifting (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3213)
- commercial piracy (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3214)
- deceptive labeling (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3214.01)
- unlawful operation of a recording device in a motion picture theater (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3214.02)
- unauthorized use of motor vehicles (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3215), and
- taking property without right (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3216).
Classification and Punishment for Theft in D.C.
Similar to most states, the District of Columbia categorizes and punishes theft offenses according to the value of the property or services taken.
In D.C., there are two main levels of theft: theft in the second degree (or petty theft), and theft in the first degree. Let’s take a closer look at each offense in greater detail.
Theft in the Second Degree. If a theft involves property or services valued at less than $1,000, the crime is theft in the second degree, which is a misdemeanor under District of Columbia law. Any person convicted of theft in the second degree will receive a sentence of imprisonment of 180 days or less, or a fine of no more than $1,000, or both. (D.C. Code Ann. § 2232-12.)
Theft in the First Degree. If a theft involves property or services valued at $1,000 or more, the crime is theft in the first degree, which is a felony under District of Columbia law. Any person convicted of theft in the first degree will receive a fine of not more than $5,000, or a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 10 years, or both. (D.C. Code Ann. § 2232-12.)
Effect of Prior Theft Convictions in D.C.
When a person has two or more prior theft convictions, any subsequent theft offense (even an offense that will qualify as petty theft) will be punishable by a mandatory-minimum term of not less than one year. In other words, the offender cannot be released from imprisonment, granted probation, or receive a suspended sentence prior to serving the mandatory-minimum term. For the purposes of this provision of D.C. law, the previous convictions may have occurred in the District of Columbia or any jurisdiction with a law prohibiting theft, larceny, or any other equivalent crime. (D.C. Code Ann. § 2232-12.)
Furthermore, a person who commits the theft offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle -- and who has two prior unrelated convictions for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle or theft in the first degree -- will receive a harsher punishment. Specifically, the offender in this situation must receive a fine of between $5,000 and $15,000, as well as a sentence of imprisonment ranging from 30 months to 15 years. (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3215).
Shoplifting and D.C. Law
In the District of Columbia, a person commits the crime of shoplifting if, with the intent to take property that is offered for sale (or with the intent to defraud the owner of the value of the property), the offender:
- knowingly conceals or takes possession of the property
- knowingly removes or alters the price tag, serial number, or other identification mark that is imprinted on or attached to the property, or
- knowingly transfers the property from the container in which it is displayed or packaged, to any other display container or sales package. (D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3213).
Any person convicted of shoplifting shall receive a fine of no more than $300 or a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or both. Aside from these criminal penalties, anyone convicted of shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor offender) will be civilly liable to the merchant for three times the amount of the actual monetary losses associated with the shoplifting offense, plus the greater of the following:
- the retail value of any goods or merchandise stolen (if the goods or merchandise are not recovered), or
- the loss of value of the goods or merchandise stolen (if the goods or merchandise are recovered), or
- a minimum of $50 in damages. (D.C. Code Ann. § 27-102.)