Destruction of Property in Washington, D.C.


Destruction of Property in Washington, D.C. is the deliberate damaging of another person’s property.  The actions in question must be done with malicious intent — in other words, not by mistake or accident.  D.C. Code § 22-303.  

Below is everything you need to know about Destruction of Property in D.C.:

What is Destruction of Property in Washington, D.C.?
What are the maximum penalties?
Are there non-trial diversion programs for first-time offenders? 
Will I need a lawyer?
Will I be able to expunge or seal a criminal record for Destruction of Property?
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected Destruction of Property cases in D.C.?

D.C. Destruction of Property lawyer Jamison Koehler has extensive experience dealing with this type of cases.  You can reach him directly at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net.

What is Destruction of Property in Washington, D.C.?

In order to prove this offense at trial, the government must prove each of following five elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  First, the government must prove that the defendant damaged or destroyed, or attempted to damage or destroy, property.  Second, the government must prove that the property did not belong to the defendant.  Third, the government must prove that the defendant acted “voluntarily and on purpose, and not by mistake or accident.”  Fourth, the government must prove that the defendant “intended to damage or destroy the property or, under circumstances which demonstrated an extreme indifference to the value or condition of the property, was aware that his/her conduct created a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to that property and engaged in that conduct nonetheless.”  Finally, with respect to the offense as a misdemeanor, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that that there was some loss in value. D.C. Criminal Jury Instruction § 5.400.

Acting with malice does not require that the defendant specifically intended to damage or destroy the property. Instead, the government must only prove that the defendant “acted with a specific disregard of a known and substantial risk of the harm which the statute is intended to prevent.” 

What are the maximum penalties?

If the property is valued at $1,000 or more, the offense is punishable as a felony by imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.  Otherwise, the offense is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 180 days imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1,000.  D.C. Criminal Code § 22-303.

Are there non-trial diversion programs for first-time offenders?

 First-time offenders may be eligible for some type of diversion program in which they perform an agreed-upon set of conditions instead of going to trial. In the case of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), for example, the defendant agrees to perform community service — typically 32 to 48 hours over a 6 to 9-month period.  In exchange, the government agrees to dismiss the charges upon successful completion of the hours.   Restitution is also a common requirement in destruction of property cases:  The defendant will typically be required to pay for repairing or replacing the damaged property.  

Will I need a lawyer?

Although you have an absolute right to represent yourself in a criminal proceeding, D.C. Superior Court judges will make it extraordinarily difficult for you to do so.  This is because of the enormous stakes that are involved in a criminal case — both in terms of your immediate liberty and in terms of the longer-term consequences of having a criminal conviction on your record.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one to represent you.  

 Mr. Koehler has secured successful outcomes — including outright acquittal after trial — on. behalf of many people charged with this offense.  In one case, for example, our client was accused of breaking the door handle of another person’s car during a road rage incident.  The court agreed that our client lacked the necessary criminal intent — the grabbing of the door handle was intended to open the door, not to damage the door handle.  Similarly, another client was found not guilty of damaging the door to a convenience store.  Her intent was to leave the store, not to destroy property.

The verdicts in both of these examples was similar to the D.C. Court of Appeals’ holding in Harris v. United States, 125 A.3d 704 (D.C. 2015).  The defendant in that case was accused of destroying the front door of his mother’s house after returning home to find it locked.  As the defendant’s mother described her son’s actions, he kept “kicking and kicking and kicking” the door, “trying to tear that door in.”  Id. at 706.  The D.C. Court of Appeals concluded in reversing the conviction that “the amount of force used was consistent with someone trying to get in – [meaning] that his use of force was not malicious and [was] inconsistent with the trial court’s ultimate finding of guilt.”  Id.at 707. 

Will I be able to expunge or seal a criminal record for Destruction of Property? 

An arrest for destruction of property as either a felony or misdemeanor can be sealed immediately on the grounds of actual innocence.  Alternatively, a motion to seal based on the interests of justice can be filed after a two- to four-year waiting period.  The timeframe depends on the nature of the offense:  You need to wait three or four years in domestic cases, depending on whether the case was formally charged or not.  All other arrests are eligible for sealing within two years.  

According to the current statute, felony convictions can never be sealed.  A conviction for destruction of property as a misdemeanor can be sealed after 8 years.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the prosecution of Destruction of Property cases in D.C.?

D.C. Superior Court will be closed through at least November 9, 2020 with respect to most types of cases.  Although the backlog of cases will provide the government will extra incentive to make favorable offers, this means that many misdemeanor matters will not be resolved until 2021.   Hearings for defendants who are held in custody will be held remotely or partially remotely with many or all of the parties participating by teleconference (Webex) or phone.  

Last update:  October 27, 2020

Do you need legal assistance with a Destruction of Property charge in Washington, D.C.? Contact Jamison Koehler today.

Contact Form

2 Comments on “Destruction of Property in Washington, D.C.

  1. Pingback: Client acquitted of destruction of property | Koehler Law

  2. Pingback: Not guilty of destroying property | Koehler Law