Perhaps you have heard of people who go to an expensive restaurant, eat a nice meal, then surreptitiously slip out of the restaurant without paying. Also known as “dine and dash,” this offense is more properly known as defrauding an innkeeper, and can have serious consequences. The crime is detailed under California Penal Code 537, and includes staying at a motel, hotel, boardinghouse, apartment house, marina, auto camp, public campground, private campground, marine facility, ski lodge or bungalow court without paying, fueling up your vehicle at a gas station without paying, or eating at a restaurant without paying.
You could also be charged with defrauding an innkeeper if you used false pretenses to obtain services, food or fuel, or if you obtained credit at one of the above places, then either absconded or used force, menace or threats to remove your luggage, intending to skip out on the bill.
Penalties Associated with Defrauding an Innkeeper
Lest you think these offenses sound more like “pranks,” you should be aware that you could spend from six months to three years in jail, if convicted of defrauding an innkeeper. The level of penalties you will experience is dependent on the value of the services or goods taken without paying. If the value of the loss was $950 or less, you will be charged with misdemeanor petty theft, and, if convicted, you would face a maximum punishment of six months in county jail, and up to a $1,000 fine. You may also be required to pay additional fees and assessments, as well as to compensate the victim for his or her losses.
If the value of the loss was over $950, you could face charges of grand theft, which, as “wobbler” charges, could be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If you have no prior offenses of the same type, and the loss was barely over the limit, you might be charged with a misdemeanor, and, if convicted, could face up to a year in county jail. If, however, you do have a prior conviction for defrauding an innkeeper, and the loss is more significant, you will likely be charged with a felony and could face up to three years in prison.
How Your Attorney May Have Your Charges Reduced
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your charges, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, your San Diego attorney may be able to resolve your case under California Penal Code, Section 1377 and 1378 through a Motion for Civil Compromise. Your attorney might also be able to persuade the prosecutor to amend your complaint to allege trespassing rather than defrauding an innkeeper. This would prevent you from being charged with a crime of moral turpitude, as well as lessening the penalties for your offense. If your offense is charged as a felony, your San Diego criminal defense attorney could potentially file a Motion to Reclassify the Case as a Misdemeanor, in order to lessen the penalties, should you be convicted.
Defenses to Defrauding an Innkeeper
In order to be convicted of defrauding an innkeeper in San Diego, the prosecutor must be able to prove intent on your part. For instance, if you were in a restaurant, having a meal, fully intending to pay the bill when it came, then during your meal you received a phone call telling you your son had been in an accident, it would be very normal to be so distracted that you rushed out of the restaurant without paying. There was no intent to defraud, simply a mistake of fact.
This is the only real defense to defrauding an innkeeper, however, depending on the circumstances surrounding your charges, your San Diego criminal defense attorney may be able to show there is no proof of your intent to defraud. Don’t wait, after being charged with defrauding an innkeeper, to contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney. The repercussions and penalties for the crime are extremely severe, and you should not face them alone.