Penalties for Theft Offenses in DC

Although theft penalties can vary greatly depending on the severity of the crime, it is important to be knowledgeable about the entire range of consequences.  In DC, theft charges are fairly common, but should always be handled using an experienced theft attorney. If you are facing a theft charge in DC, it is of the utmost importance that you contact a knowledgeable theft lawyer, to help maximize your chances of reducing any penalties you may be facing.

Impact of a Conviction

A misdemeanor theft conviction carries a maximum of 180 days in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both. A felony first-degree theft conviction has a much harsher penalty. In that situation, the maximum penalty a person faces is 10 years in jail.

If a person is convicted of a theft charge, it can show up in background checks. That could make potential employers question a person’s honesty and trustworthiness when they are determining whether or not to hire someone. An employer might see a theft charge and think that the candidate is not someone they would like to have in their office.

Due to the penalties for theft offenses in DC, being convicted can have an impact on an individual looking for jobs because it has a possible link to a person’s honesty. Avoiding a theft conviction can be very helpful in making sure someone does not experience those consequences.

Burden of Proof

In a theft case in DC, the prosecution needs to prove a variety of elements. These elements include:

  • That an item was taken
  • That the person who took the item was not the owner of that item
  • That the person took the item without the permission of the actual owner
  • That this item had some value
  • That the person’s intent when they took the item was to permanently deprive the rightful owner of that item, or deprive the rightful owner of that item for enough time that it would diminish the value of that item to the rightful owner.

Theft is commonly charged, but the extent to which the cases are prosecuted depends on the circumstances. This depends on the value of the item, the person’s criminal history, the ability for the items to be returned, and the ability to pay restitution, meaning compensating the alleged victim or the accuser.


In a theft case, the evidence that is typically presented is the testimony of the rightful owner stating what item was taken from them, the value of that item, that the item is their property, and that the person who is being charged is the person who took that item. The government introduces circumstantial evidence to attempt to prove that the suspect, the person that they are charging, intended to permanently deprive the person of that item. They can do this by using the circumstances of the offense. Sometimes, there will be direct evidence. This can all determine the severity of the penalty for a theft offense in DC.

For example, if a person goes into a coworker’s desk when that coworker is out of the office, takes the coworker’s wallet, and is later found with the wallet, then the circumstances of that can lead the prosecutors to say that the suspect’s intent was to permanently appropriate that wallet from the rightful owner. The circumstances can then be used as evidence to prove that the intent was to permanently deprive the rightful owner of that property.

Challenging the Evidence

There are a few ways to refute a theft charge. One method is through identity questions. Perhaps the owner of the property could not directly identify the person who they seriously believe took the item, but heard from someone else that the person who is being accused is the one who took the item. An attorney might be able to attack the credibility of the witnesses, for example, if the two people, the accuser and the defendant, do not know each other at all. An attorney can also try to attack the assessment of the value of the item as to whether or not it is worth more or less than $1,000. There could be

An attorney can also try to attack the assessment of the value of the item as to whether or not it is worth more or less than $1,000. There could be question as to whether or not there was intent to deprive, or whether it was simply a borrowing. For example, if the item had multiple owners, an attorney would look at whether or not there had been permission granted by another owner. If one owner had granted permission for the use but another owner did not, then that can be a defense to the question of whether or not the person had the intent to deprive a person without that person’s permission. All of these contributing factors can play a role in determining the penalty associated with a specific DC theft charge.