In Washington, DC, there are several different types of theft offenses that the government can charge someone with depending on the alleged conduct. At the outset, its important to note that the United States Attorney’s Office rather than the Office of the Attorney General prosecutes all theft and fraud related offenses. Shoplifting and theft are different charges with different maximum penalties. The most commonly charged offense is second degree theft. Second degree theft carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and or a one thousand dollar fine. On the other hand, shoplifting carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and or a three hundred dollar fine.
What does the government have to prove in a shoplifting case?
In every criminal case, the government has to prove the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. To do so, the government must prove what are called elements. Each criminal charge has a list of elements that set forth what the government must prove to convict the person. For a shoplifting case, the elements are
1. The item must belong to someone else;
2. The defendant must have the intent to “appropriate” the item without paying in full for it or to defraud the owner of the property’s value.
3. The defendant knowingly hides or takes possession of the item, removes or alters it, transfers from one part of the store to another.
Furthermore, the law defines appropriate as basically taking something without a right to do so. To prove these elements, the government typically must bring in a representative from the store to testify about the ownership of the property in question. In addition, they may need to bring and call to testify the store’s “loss prevention officer” or other security personnel who observed the defendant either on person or on a security camera.
Is there a defense to shoplifting in DC?
Yes. In addition, its important to know that accident or inadvertence is a defense to shoplifting. Imagine a scenario where someone is shopping and they accidentally fail to scan an item at self-checkout or mistakenly forget to take an item they tried on off before leaving the store. If the defense can put forward credible evidence that the individual did not knowingly try take off with the item, the individual could get acquitted if the government cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not accidental.
What is the difference between shoplifting and theft in DC?
Aside from the difference in maximum penalties, theft and shoplifting have different elements that the government must prove. From a practical standpoint, the government usually charges folks with shoplifting where the person does not make it out of the store with the item.
What are the elements the government must prove to convict someone of theft in DC?
Like all charges, the government must prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. There are also multiple types of theft offenses that the government can charge depending on the alleged facts. The most commonly charged offense is second degree theft or “Theft II”. The government must prove that
1. The property at issue must belong to someone else;
2. The defendant must wrongfully use or obtain the property;
3. The arrested person must either intend to deprive the property owner of its use or benefit or intend to “appropriate” the property for their own use or the use of another
Theft II is a misdemeanor offense when the property at issue is valued less than one thousand dollars. However, if the property’s value exceeds that amount, then the government can charge the arrested person with a felony—first degree theft or “Theft I”.
Is there diversion for theft or shoplifting offenses in DC?
Prosecutors may offer diversion in theft or shoplifting cases. Diversion is a process where the government requires the defendant to jump through some hoops like pay a fine or complete community service in exchange for dismissing the charges. Like in all cases, the government will typically consider the factual allegations, the wishes of the complainant, the defendant’s record, and the defendant’s compliance with pretrial conditions.
Can a theft or shoplifting offense be sealed in DC?
If the charges are ultimately dismissed, both offenses are eligible for sealing under DC expungement law. Misdemeanor offenses can be sealed after two years from the date of dismissal. However, if the defendant can show by what the law calls a “preponderance of the evidence” that she was “actually innocent” of the offense, then sealing can be accomplished after the charges are dismissed. A felony conviction of Theft I is not eligible for sealing—like most felonies.
To prove “actual innocence” for a complete expungement of the arrest, the defendant would have to come forward with evidence like security camera footage or affidavits or declarations from persons with first-hand knowledge of the incident. If, for example, the store owner would come forward and claim she made a mistake in identifying the person who stole or shoplifted, that would likely be enough to get the arrest record expunged.
Should you hire a lawyer if charged with Theft or Shoplifting in DC?
In any criminal charge, jail time is always a possibility. When your liberty is at stake, it is always a good idea to hire a competent and experienced DC criminal lawyer. At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully defended theft and shoplifting charges and provide our clients with quality representation. Contact us today for a full case evaluation.