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.

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.

How Felony Sentencing Works in the District of Columbia

Unlike many states, Washington, D.C. doesn’t group felonies into different classes for purposes of general sentencing (except for sentencing after revocation of parole). Rather, the statutes related to individual felonies spell out the maximum sentences for those crimes—and sometimes the minimum sentences.

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 three 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. For certain felonies, the judge may impose a fine in addition to a prison sentence. Some other felonies allow a fine either in addition to or instead of a prison sentence.

When you’re sentenced to prison, the judge must also impose a period of supervision after you’re been released. 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 of more. ((D.C. Code §§ 24-403, 24-403.01 (2020).)

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

(D.C. Code §§ 22-404.01, 22-2104, 22-2801, 22-3002, 22-3212, 22-3134 (2020).)

Sentence Enhancements for Felonies in D.C.

Beyond the statutory penalties for individual crimes, the District of Columbia allows or requires stiffer penalties under certain conditions, including:

  • 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 (2020).)

Alternative Sentencing in D.C.: When Judges May Place Felons on Probation

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. 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 another interval. (D.C. Code § 16-710 (2020).)

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, you should speak to a local criminal defense lawyer immediately. 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.

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