Theft of Services
What is Theft of Services?
Theft of services is a type of crime involving the unauthorized use or diversion of services for the actor’s benefit. It may also include securing services or performances through the use of deceit or through threats of physical harm.
In other variations of the crime, knowingly entering into an agreement for services with the intent not to pay for them can sometimes constitute theft of services. Also, holding personal property associated with services can beyond the agreed upon time can sometimes constitute a legal violation.
What are Some Examples of Theft of Services?
Stealing cable television services is perhaps the most common form of theft of services. This may involve either not paying for the services once they’re provided, or diverting hardware to illegally reroute the services to one’s residence. Either way, these can be considered violations of the law.
Other examples of theft of services include:
- Diverting services to one’s own benefit (such as rerouting electricity, internet, or utilities)
- Not paying for automobile repairs
- Not paying for landscaping
- Not paying for instructional lessons
- Stealing wi-fi from a neighbor (“piggybacking”) or illegally accessing wi-fi connections
- “Eat and run” or “sleep and run”- i.e., patronizing a restaurant or hotel, then leaving without paying
- Intent to avoid payment
Other similar crimes may be closely related to theft of services, such as altering a gas or electric meter in order to pay less on monthly utility bills.
What are the Penalties for Theft of Services?
Theft of services usually leads to misdemeanor criminal charges. These are punished by some criminal fines and possible time in jail, usually less than one year. However, repeat theft offenses can lead to felony charges, which involve stricter criminal consequences. Theft through the use of deadly force may also be classified as a felony. Finally, theft of services over a certain amount (usually many thousands of dollars) may constitute grand theft, which is also a felony charge.
Also, the victim of the theft will often file civil charges against the defendant in order to recover damages for their losses.
Are There Any Defenses to Theft of Services Charges?
Defenses to theft of services may be different from other types of theft. Unlike property theft, it can be difficult to obtain evidence regarding the theft, since this deals with intangible services rather than actual physical evidence. In some cases, a contract can serve as evidence, but many service thefts occur because no contract was formed in the first place.
One common defense in many theft cases is that of lack of specific intent to commit the crime. That is, the defendant usually needs to have intentionally stolen in order to be found guilty of theft. On the other hand, trying to avoid payment is often evidence of intent to steal services.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer if I’m Facing Theft of Services Charges?
Due to the technical nature of theft of services charges, it may be necessary to hire a criminal defense lawyer for assistance. An experienced lawyer in your area will be able to guide you through the legal process, and can help raise the appropriate defenses for your situation. Your lawyer can be on hand to answer any specific inquiries you may have concerning this specific type of theft crime.
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Last Modified: 12-13-2012 12:10 PM PST
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