Destruction of Property

It is a criminal offense in D.C. to maliciously injure, break, or destroy, or attempt to injure, break, injure or destroy, any personal or private property, whether real or personal, not his or her own. D.C. Code § 22-303. 

In order to prove this offense at trial, the government must prove each of 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.” 

In Harris v. United States, 125 A.3d 704 (D.C. 2015), the defendant destroyed 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. 

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.  First-time offenders may be eligible for some type of diversion program in which they perform community service instead of going to trial.

If you have been charged with destruction of property in D.C. as either a misdemeanor or felony and are looking for a reasonably priced attorney with extensive experience in dealing with this type of case, please contact Jamison Koehler at 202-549-2374 or jkoehler@koehlerlaw.net.