District of Columbia Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

Learn about the consequences of a theft conviction in the District of Columbia.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated November 02, 2020

The District of Columbia's theft laws prohibits a broad range of conduct, including conduct involving larceny, embezzlement, misappropriation, and theft by deception or false pretenses.

Definition of Theft in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

A person commits theft by wrongfully obtaining or using another's property with intent to:

  • deprive the owner of their right to the property, or
  • convert the property for an unauthorized use.

It doesn't matter whether the person intends to deprive the owner of their property permanently or just temporarily.

The term "property" refers to anything of value, such as real or personal property, title or interest in property, services, credit, debt, and government-issued licenses, permits, or benefits. (D.C. Code §§ 22-3201, -3211 (2020).)

So a person who steals someone's phone commits theft. But it's also theft to trick someone into transferring over their title to a vehicle, skim money from an elderly parent's checking account, or accept services not intending to pay for them.

While most theft offenses fall under the general theft statute, a few individual theft-related crimes remain. You can check out the D.C. Code for information on theft of utility services, identity theft, receiving or trafficking stolen property, and extortion. (D.C. Code tit. 22, ch. 32 (2020).)

Classification and Penalties for Theft

The D.C. Code classifies theft offenses into just two categories based on the value of the stolen property or services: first-degree theft (felony) and second-degree theft (misdemeanor).

First-Degree Theft

A person who steals property or services valued at $1,000 or more commits theft in the first degree. First-degree theft carries a maximum felony sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.

Second-Degree Theft

Stealing less than $1,000 in property or services results in a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Enhanced Penalties

Enhanced penalties apply to repeat thefts and thefts committed against a senior citizen.

Repeat thefts. A person convicted of a third or subsequent theft offense (first- or second-degree) faces a minimum sentence of one year's incarceration and a maximum of 15 years in prison. The maximum fine amount increases to $37,500. Under this section, a third misdemeanor theft can result in prison time.

Thefts against elderly victims. A person who steals from a person age 65 or older faces an enhanced penalty of 1½ times the maximum sentence for the offense. A defendant can raise what's called an "affirmative defense" to avoid this enhanced penalty. To prove the defense, the defendant must convince the jury or judge by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she reasonably believed the victim to be younger or could not have known the victim's age.

(D.C. Code §§ 22-3212, -3601 (2020).)

Shoplifting Penalties

In Washington, D.C., as in other jurisdictions, a person who shoplifts faces both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal Penalties

Shoplifting includes more than just hiding merchandise in a coat or bag and trying to leave the store without paying for it. It includes any of the following conduct where the shoplifter's intent is to defraud the store owner or take the merchandise without making a complete payment:

  • concealing or taking possession of merchandise
  • altering, removing, or switching price tags, serial numbers, or similar markings, or
  • transferring merchandise from one container or package to another.

Say, for instance, a person switches the contents of a brand-name item with a generic item or alters a price tag to reflect a lower price. This person commits shoplifting by defrauding the owner of the full retail value of the item.

Shoplifting is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

(D.C. Code § 22-3212 (2020).)

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

A person also faces civil penalties for shoplifting. A store owner can seek civil damages in the amount of:

  • the value of unrecovered merchandise or loss in value of recovered merchandise (with a minimum of $50), plus
  • three times the owner's actual damages.

If the offender is a minor younger than 18, the parent or guardian is liable for these amounts.

(D.C. Code § 27-102 (2020).)

Talk to an Attorney

If you face charges for theft or shoplifting, contact a local criminal defense attorney. Even a low-level theft offense can carry serious consequences and be used in future sentencing proceedings. An experienced attorney can explain the law, defend your rights, and help achieve a favorable outcome.

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