Shoplifting in D.C.

While the criminal offense of shoplifting is formally on the books, most shoplifting/retail theft offenses in D.C. are charged as Theft II. “Theft II” means theft as a second degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than 180 days.  For more information on theft II, please click here.

Elements of the Offense

There are three elements to the crime of shoplifting in Washington, D.C.  The first element is that the item in question needs to be the “personal property of another.”   The prosecution does not need to prove that the property actually belonged to the store.  It just needs to prove that the property does not belong to the defendant.

The second element is that the defendant had the intent either:  (1) to “appropriate” without complete payment property that is offered for sale or (2) to defraud the owner of the value of property.  “Appropriate” is defined in the statute as “taking or making use of without authority or right.”

The third and final element is that the person knowingly:  (1) conceals or takes possession of the property, (2) removes or alters the price tag or some other identifying mark, or (3) transfers the property from one display container to another.   Use of the word “knowingly” to modify all three sub-parts of the element assures that the action in question (the concealing, the taking possession, etc.) cannot be accidental or inadvertent.

According to the language in the statute, a person could conceivably be convicted of shoplifting for doing nothing more than walking into a store and picking up a piece of merchandise from the shelf.  However, in order to meet its burden of proof in this scenario, the prosecution would also need to prove three things.  First, it would need to prove that the property did not already belong to the defendant.  Second, it would need to prove that the act of picking up the merchandise was not done accidentally or inadvertently.  Finally, in what would be the prosecution’s biggest challenge, it would need to prove that, at the time of the picking up, the defendant intended either to steal it or to defraud the owner of its true value.  D.C. Criminal Code § 22-3213 (2001).


Although this offense is punishable by fine of up to a $500 and 90 days of imprisonment, first-time offenders of this statute might be eligible for some type of diversion program.  For example, one alternative to trial would be for the defendant to enter into a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA).  The standard DPA involves 32 hours of community over a four-month period.   The government will dismiss the charges after the conditions of this agreement have been satisfied.

Although your lawyer will be given a copy of the full police report and other pieces of “discovery” at your initial court appearance, you can obtain a copy of an abbreviated police report — the PD-251 — in advance of that hearing by contacting the Metropolitan Police Department.  Instructions on obtaining a copy of your PD-251 are provided here.

Working exclusively on criminal defense in D.C., Jamison Koehler has extensive experience helping people deal with this charge.  He can be reached at 202-549-2374 or