District of Columbia Misdemeanor Crimes and Sentences

Learn how misdemeanor sentencing works in Washington, D.C., how previous convictions affect sentences, and when you can get probation instead of jail.

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

How Misdemeanor Sentencing Works in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

Unlike many states that group misdemeanors in different classes for purposes of sentencing, the District of Columbia sets the maximum penalties on a crime-by-crime basis. If you’re convicted of a misdemeanor, it’s up to the judge to decide on the appropriate sentence—a term in jail and/or a fine—within the legal limits for that crime.

When Previous Convictions Can Affect a Misdemeanor Sentence

The laws for some misdemeanors in the District of Columbia require stiffer penalties when the defendant has one or more previous convictions for the same crime. For example:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI): A first offense (with a blood alcohol content below .2) carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine; a second offense requires a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail, up to one year, and/or a $2,500-$5,000 fine.
  • Stalking: A first offense carries a potential jail sentence of up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500. However, if you had a previous conviction for stalking anyone within the past 10 years, the crime is treated as a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $12,500 fine.
  • Petty theft (of property worth less than $1,000): A first or second offense carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine; a third offense will be treated as a felony, with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year, up to 15 years maximum, and/or a fine of up to $37,500.

(D.C. Code §§ 22-3134, 22-3212, 50-2206.13 (2020).)

When You Might Get Probation Instead of Jail

Along with the option of imposing only a fine for a misdemeanor, judges in Washington, D.C. may impose a suspended jail sentence and place you on probation. Probation may take the place of any jail time (as long as you meet the conditions), or it may be part of a “split sentence,” meaning that you would serve some time in jail and some time on probation. (D.C. Code § 16-710 (2020).)

Examples of Misdemeanor Penalties

Here are a few examples of crimes treated as misdemeanors in the District of Columbia, along with their statutory penalties:

  • Simple assault: up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
  • Disorderly conduct: up to 90 days and/or a $500 fine, or up to 180 days and/or a $1,000 fine for disorderly conduct in or near public buildings or grounds owned by the federal government.
  • Illegal protest targeting a residence: up to 90 days and/or a $500 fine.
  • Possession of a controlled drug (not including marijuana): up to 180 days and/or a $2,500 fine.
  • Animal cruelty: up to 180 days and/or a $250 fine.

(D.C. Code §§ 22-404, 22-1001, 22-1321, 22-2752, 22-3311, 48-904.01 (2020).)

Getting Legal Help With Misdemeanor Charges

Even though misdemeanor charges are less serious than felonies, a conviction can still have negative consequences. It might affect your ability to land a job or rent an apartment. And if you get in trouble with the law again, a previous conviction could subject you to a stiffer sentence. So if you’re facing any criminal charges, it’s important to speak with a local criminal defense lawyer who can protect your rights throughout the proceedings and help you get the best outcome possible under the circumstances.

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