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District of Columbia Shoplifting Laws

Unlike other jurisdictions in the United States, the District of Columbia doesn't lump shoplifting offenses into the general theft laws: It's a completely separate offense. If you take merchandise from a Georgetown boutique or nab items from a Penn Quarter store, then you may be facing charges under the shoplifting statute in D.C.

District of Columbia Shoplifting Laws Overview

The ideal way to understand what a statute conveys is by working with a lawyer. But before you meet with counsel, you can familiarize yourself with the law by using a more readable version of the content. The chart below provides such an overview of shoplifting laws in Washington, D.C.


District of Columbia Division IV. Title 22:, Section 22-3213


Elements of the Crime


A person:

  • Knowingly conceals or takes possession of the property;
  • Knowingly removes or alters the: price tag, serial number, or other identification mark that is imprinted on or attached to such property; or
  • Knowingly transfers the property from the display or package container to any other display container or sales package.

Additionally, the person must intend:

  • To defraud the owner of the value of the property; and
  • To not pay for the property at all or in full.

Note: If you attempt to commit shoplifting, it's not considered a crime.

Detainment for Shoplifting / Penalty

It's legal for a merchant, employee, or security guard/officer to detain a person until law enforcement officers arrive to make an arrest or until the store releases them. A business will not be held liable for the detention, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation, or false arrest, if:

  • They have probable cause to believe that the person has shoplifted in their presence;
  • The manner of the detention was reasonable;
  • Law enforcement authorities were notified in a reasonable time; and
  • The person detained was released within a reasonable time by the store or when law enforcement arrived.

Penalty: 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $500.

Related Offenses

D.C. Code:

  • Section 22-3216 (taking property without right)
  • Section 22-3212 (theft)
  • Section 22-3214 (commercial piracy)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

District of Columbia Shoplifting Laws: Related Resources

Facing Shoplifting Charges in the D.C.? Find an Attorney

If you've broken the District of Columbia's shoplifting laws, then you aren't involved with a major crime. However, you still don't want to deal with the damage to your reputation, payment of fines, or jail time if you get convicted. Find a criminal defense attorney in your area who can help you avoid these consequences by putting forward your strongest defense.

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