A wide variety of theft offenses exist under California Penal Codes, one of which makes it a crime to defraud an innkeeper. Charges of defrauding an innkeeper fall under California Penal Code section 537(a), and are extremely serious. In fact, depending on the value of the theft, the offense can be charged as a felony. If you have been charged with defrauding an innkeeper in Los Angeles, the following elements must be able to be proven by the prosecution:
- You obtained accommodations, services, fuel or food at a gas station, motel, apartment, lodging house, boardinghouse, restaurant, marina, inn, hotel, bungalow court, marine facility, ski area, public campground or private campground.
- You obtained these services, then did not pay for the services.
- You knew you were defrauding the manager or proprietor of the services, OR
- You obtained credit at one of the above services, through the use of false pretenses OR
- You absconded or removed (whether by force, menace, threats or surreptitiously) your possessions, intending to not pay for your food or accommodations.
Within Penal Code 537(b), there is a provision which specifically deals with ski areas both for someone who skis without paying, or for those who resell their lift ticket to another person.
There are many examples of defrauding an innkeeper, perhaps the most common occurs when a person goes into a restaurant, orders and expensive meal, then when the check comes he or she slips out without paying, and, in fact, had no intention of paying for the meal. The same type of offense could occur if a person convinced the front desk clerk at a hotel he or she did not have a credit card, but would pay in cash at the end of the stay.
Instead, the person leaves in the middle of the night after racking up days’ worth of charges staying at the hotel. Conversely, if a person ordered a meal at an expensive restaurant (with every intention of paying for the meal), then was shocked to find a large bug in dessert when it arrived, therefore refused to pay for the meal, that person would probably not be held criminally liable for defrauding an innkeeper, as there was no intent to do so.
Penalties Associated with Defrauding an Innkeeper
As noted, you could be charged a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the value of the loss suffered by the victim under the California Code which governs defrauding an innkeeper. If you are facing misdemeanor charges, that means the loss had a value of $950 or less, therefore it is considered petty theft. If convicted of this crime, you could face up to six months in jail, be assessed significant court fines—up to $1,000 plus penalties and assessments, and you may also have to compensate the victim for his or her losses.
If the value of the loss exceeded $950, the offense of defrauding an innkeeper is considered grand theft, however the offense is a “wobbler,” meaning the prosecutor can charge as either a felony or misdemeanor. Those with a prior conviction for the same crime are likely to be charged with a felony. A felony grand theft conviction for defrauding an innkeeper could result in a sentence of up to three years in prison, while a misdemeanor grand theft conviction for defrauding an innkeeper could result in a sentence of up to one year in prison.
Defenses to Defrauding an Innkeeper
There are few defenses to charges of defrauding an innkeeper. In fact, showing you did not possess the intent to defraud is really one of the only defenses to the crime, although it could be a very valid one. Perhaps you were distracted at the time you were supposed to pay for your meal, your gas, or your services. You may have received a cell phone call about your grandmother breaking her hip at the very moment your restaurant check came. You were so involved in the details of the call that you rushed out of the restaurant without paying.
If you otherwise have a clean criminal history, and video surveillance in the restaurant showed the phone call and your distracted state, your attorney could successfully argue you had no intent to defraud. Or, perhaps you were under the impression your hotel room was being comped, therefore your attorney could assert the mistake of fact defense. If it can be shown you had plenty of money to pay for the item or services on hand, this could work in your favor.
If you have been charged with defrauding an innkeeper in Los Angeles, you could benefit from speaking to an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Your attorney could possibly be able to have your charges dropped, or lowered to a lesser charge. Don’t wait—the penalties for a conviction of defrauding an innkeeper are extremely serious, so contact an attorney today.