Theft/Fraud in D.C.

THEFT

Theft in Washington, D.C. is a general offense that encompasses what used to be a series of separate offenses affecting property interests.  It includes, for example, what used to be called larceny, embezzlement, theft by deception, and larceny by trick.

Arrest

Elements of the Offense

The offense in its present form includes three basic elements.  The first element, which is pretty self-evident, is that the property in question belongs to another person.

The second element is that the perpetrator “wrongfully obtains or uses” the property.  This can be through the actual physical taking of the property.  If I reach down and pick up a wallet, I am “taking” the property.  It can be through the more passive “controlling,” “unauthorized use” or “transfer” of the property.  If I go on-line and, using your confidential bank information, transfer funds from your account into my account, that act would meet this element of the offense.  Finally, this element can be satisfied through some form of deception related to the property.  If I tell you I will give you $100 in two days in exchange for your coat today and you agree and if two days later I refuse to give you the coat, that could qualify under this element.  It doesn’t matter if I initially planned to give you $100 in two days and then changed my mind or if I planned to deceive you all along.  It doesn’t matter that you initially gave me the coat willingly.

The third and final element addresses the state of mind – or criminal intent – of the person who wrongfully obtains or uses the property.  Specifically, in order to meet this element of the offense, the person needs to intend to either:  (1) deprive the rightful owner of the right or benefit of the property, or (2) appropriate the property to his or her own use or to the use of a third party.

In addition to tangible or intangible property, the theft of services is also covered under the general definition of theft.  If I walk out of a restaurant without paying the bill, that is theft.  I have violated the restaurant’s property interests in both the value of the food I have eaten and the value of the services it provided to feed me.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3211.

Penalties

Theft in the first degree is when the total value of the property taken is $1000 or more.  The penalty for a first degree theft conviction is a maximum fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for no more than 10 years.

If the total value of the property is less than $1000, it is a theft in the second degree.  The penalty for second degree theft is a maximum fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than 180 days.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3212.

FRAUD

Fraud is defined generally as either a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or a concealment of the truth that causes another person to act to his or her detriment.  While fraud is usually a “tort” (that is, a wrong that can be remedied through civil action), it can also be a crime.

There are several different kinds of fraud in Washington, D.C., including fraud in the first or second degrees, credit card fraud, and insurance fraud.

Fraud in the First Degree

Fraud in the First Degree has three elements.  The first requirement is that the person engage “in a scheme or systematic course of conduct.” This suggests that the offense does not occur with a spontaneous or one-time act.  Public welfare fraud, for example, usually occurs over a period of time or through multiple transactions.

The second element pertains to the criminal intent (or mens rea).  Specifically, this requires that the person intend “to defraud or to obtain property of another by means of a false or fraudulent pretense, representation, or promise.” Most jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., have done away with the common law crimes of larceny by trick and false pretenses.  While there is still considerable overlap between theft and fraud offenses, some of the wrongs that were traditionally considered theft could now be covered under fraud.

The third element – and the one that distinguishes fraud in the first degree from fraud in the second degree – is that the person succeeds either in obtaining the property or in causing the other person to lose the property.

If the value of the property in question is $250 or greater, the penalty for a conviction of fraud in the first degree is a maximum fine of $5,000 or three times the value of the property in question, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years.  If the value of the property in question is less than $250, the maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3221; D.C. Criminal Code 22-3222.

Fraud in the Second Degree

The elements of Fraud in the Second Degree are identical to the first two elements of Fraud in the First Degree.  The only difference between the two degrees is that with Fraud in the First Degree, the act is actually successful in defrauding the victim of his/her property.  In this sense, Fraud in the Second Degree could be considered attemptedfraud in the first degree.

If the value of the property in question is $250 or greater, the penalty for a conviction of fraud in the first degree is a maximum fine of $3,000 or three times the value of the property in question, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years.  If the value of the property in question is less than $250, the maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.

For further information on theft and fraud crimes in D.C. and Virginia, please click here.