D.C. Criminal Offenses

What constitutes a criminal offense in the District is spelled out in the D.C. Code. Generally, a criminal offense will require both an act (or an omission to act) and a mental state – or mens rea. In other words, it is not enough that the government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed some act that is prohibited by law.  Generally speaking, the government must also prove that the defendant had the required criminal intent.

Crimes in D.C. are divided into misdemeanors and felonies depending on the maximum penalty associated with the offense. Felonies have a maximum penalty of greater than a year of incarceration. Offenses with maximum penalties equal to or less than a year are misdemeanors. Defendants charged with an offense punishable by a maximum period of incarceration of 6 months or greater are eligible for a jury trial. All other cases will be tried before a judge, with a judge serving as both finder of fact and finder of law.

Because of D.C.’s unique status as a federal district, there are two different prosecuting bodies in the city. The Office of the Attorney General handles traffic matters, juvenile offenses, and violations of the D.C. municipal code. All other offenses are handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is a federal entity.

Below is additional information on common criminal offenses in D.C.

For a list of the maximum penalties for criminal offenses in D.C., please click here.