District of Columbia Felony Crimes and Sentences

Learn how felony sentencing works in Washington, D.C., when you might get probation instead of imprisonment, and when the law requires sentence enhancements.

By , Legal Editor
Updated 11/14/2023

In Washington, D.C., as in most U.S. states, felonies are crimes that carry a potential punishment of more than a year in prison. In contrast, misdemeanors in the District of Columbia are less serious crimes that may be punished by no more than a year in jail.

This article will review the basics of felony crimes and sentencing under the Code of the District of Columbia ("D.C. Code").

Felony Classes and Penalties in Washington, D.C.

The D.C. Code doesn't group felonies into different classes for purposes of general sentencing. Rather, the statutes related to individual felonies spell out the maximum sentences for those crimes—and sometimes the minimum sentences.

Examples of Felonies Crimes and Sentencing Ranges in D.C.

Here are some examples of the sentences that the law in D.C. allows for certain felonies:

  • First-degree murder: mandatory minimum of 30 years and up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • First-degree sexual abuse (rape): up to life in prison, plus a fine of up to $125,000.
  • First-degree burglary (of an occupied dwelling): 5 to 30 years in prison, plus a fine of up to $75,000.
  • Robbery: 2 to 15 years of prison time, plus a potential fine of up to $37,500.
  • First-degree theft (of property worth $1,000 or more): up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for a first or second offense.
  • Aggravated assault: up to 10 years of prison time and a $25,000 fine.
  • Stalking when under a court order prohibiting contact with the victim (such as a domestic violence protection order): up to 5 years in prison and a $12,500 fine.

In addition to incarceration and fines, a judge can order a defendant to pay restitution or reparations to the victim or perform community service work.

(D.C. Code §§ 16-711, 16-712, 22-404.01, 22-2104, 22-2801, 22-3002, 22-3212, 22-3134 (2023).)

Sentence Enhancements for Felonies in D.C.

Beyond the statutory penalties for individual crimes, the D.C. Code allows or requires stiffer penalties under certain conditions, including the following.

Previous felony convictions. If you're convicted of a felony and have two previous felony convictions (regardless of the specific crime), the judge may impose a longer sentence than the maximum statutory penalty for the most recent crime, up to 30 years. However, if your previous and current convictions were all for violent crimes, the judge must sentence you to at least 15 years in prison—and may give you a sentence as long as life without the possibility of release.

Previous convictions for violent crimes. Some crimes, such as assault with the intent to commit rape, require minimum prison terms if you have a previous conviction for a violent crime.

Previous convictions for the same crime. As a general rule, anytime you're convicted of a felony and have a previous conviction for the same offense, the judge may sentence you to a prison term (or require you to pay a fine) that's 50% longer than the statutory maximum for that crime. If you have two previous convictions, you could receive a sentence that's three times the statutory maximum. (When a specific crime calls for a higher penalty on a second or third conviction, that penalty will apply rather than the general rule.)

Crimes against protected victims. Judges may also impose sentences that are 50% longer than the statutory maximum for some crimes against certain victims, including seniors (65 or older), minors, and transit operators.

Hate crimes. Lengthier sentences (50% over the statutory maximum) are also allowed for bias-related crimes that show the defendant's prejudice against the victim based on a wide range of actual or perceived characteristics, including race, national origin, age, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical disability, homelessness, political affiliation, and personal appearance.

(D.C. Code §§ 22-1804, 22-1804a, 22-3601, 22-3611, 22-3701, 22-3703, 22-3751.01, 24-403 (2023).)

How Felony Sentencing Works in the District of Columbia

Judges must impose felony sentences that reflect the seriousness of the offense and offender. They may use Sentencing Guidelines (found here) to aid in their decision. The guidelines provide a standard sentencing range based on a defendant's current offense and criminal history.

Felony Probation in D.C.

Unless you've been convicted of a crime that carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence, the judge may decide to suspend all or part of your sentence and place you on probation for up to five years.

If the judge suspends only part of the sentence, you'll serve a certain amount of time behind bars. This type of sentence is referred to as a long or short split sentence. The judge may also suspend the entire sentence of incarceration, in which case, it's a true probation sentence.

As a condition of probation for a felony, the judge may order you to remain in custody (which could be in a community correctional center) during nights, weekends, or other intervals. To remain in the community, the defendant must abide by all probation conditions. A violation can result in modification or revocation of probation. Revocation means the defendant must serve their prison sentence.

(D.C. Code § 16-710, 16-712 (2023).)

Felony Prison Time in D.C.

The District of Columbia uses a system of indeterminate sentencing for felonies. That means that when a judge sentences you to imprisonment, the sentence will include both a minimum and maximum amount of time (within the legal limits for the crime), such as 3 to 10 years. The minimum term may not be longer than one-third of the maximum sentence (or no longer than 15 years when the maximum is life in prison). After you've served the minimum term, you'll be eligible to be considered for release on parole.

When you're sentenced to prison, the judge must also impose a period of supervision after your release. The term of supervised release may not be longer than three years—or five years if the maximum prison sentence for that felony is 25 years or more.

(D.C. Code §§ 24-403, 24-403.01 (2023).)

Criminal Statutes of Limitations for Felonies in D.C.

Prosecutors must generally file criminal charges against a suspect within a certain amount of time of the crime being committed. This time limit is called a statute of limitations. If the prosecution doesn't file the charges within these time limits, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the charges.

In D.C., the prosecution typically has six years to file felony charges. However, several exceptions exist. Some felonies have 10-year time limits, and at least two dozen felonies have no time limit, which means the prosecution can file charges at any time. Felonies with no statute of limitations include murder, sexual abuse crimes, and incest. The law also "stops" the clock, so to speak, when a person is a fugitive and for certain crimes against children and crimes committed while a public official is in office.

(D.C. Code § 23-113 (2023).)

Getting Legal Help

A felony conviction can have long-lasting, serious consequences. Even after you've served the sentence, having a felony on your record could make it difficult to get a job, find housing, or qualify for some government benefits. It could also subject you to stiffer penalties if you get in trouble with the law again. If you're facing potential felony charges, speak to a local criminal defense lawyer. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system, negotiate a favorable plea bargain if that's appropriate, protect your rights, and help you reach the best outcome possible under the circumstances.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you