Dining and dashing is the act of going to a restaurant, eating a meal and then leaving without paying the bill. Some people do this because they feel the food or service wasn’t very good and others do it solely for the thrill, often deciding to skip out on the bill long before they even enter the restaurant itself. While it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s illegal to dine and dash, many people are surprised at how serious the charges for this crime can be.
Is Doing a “Dine and Dash” Illegal?
Everyone knows they could get arrested for shoplifting, but somehow people think that the act of dining and dashing or the equivalent of skipping out on a hotel bill are somehow lesser crimes. But whether you’re taking physical goods or refusing to pay for a meal, you’re still costing these establishments money in the form of raw ingredients to make food and the service of the chefs who cook it and the waters who bring it to you. That’s why the state’s laws concerning “defrauding an innkeeper” make it illegal to dine and dash or otherwise fail to pay for services with the intent to defraud the owner of a “hotel, restaurant, motel, campground, or any other establishment that serves food and/or beverages.”
The Key Element of Defrauding an Innkeeper
It’s important to recognize that the law specifically states that it is illegal to skip out on a restaurant or hotel bill with the intent to defraud the owner. That means that if you ate dinner with your family and left thinking your uncle paid your bill but he actually split the check and left your portion to be paid, you wouldn’t be guilty of dining and dashing because you didn’t intentionally avoid paying your bill. Similarly, if someone stole your wallet while you were at a restaurant and you told the owner you couldn’t pay your bill because someone stole your wallet, while the owner might call the police, you still wouldn’t be guilty of defrauding an innkeeper because it wasn’t your intent to leave without paying, but circumstances placed you in that position.
It’s also common for particularly intoxicated people to leave restaurants without realizing they didn’t pay their bill simply because they’re too drunk to remember. While voluntary intoxication isn’t usually a defense, it can be in a case like this where intent is a key element. Because intent is such an important part of this crime, it is important to call a criminal attorney if you have been accused of dining and dashing.
You Must Also Receive Something
It’s also important to recognize that you must have used the good or service to some extent in order to be guilty of this crime. That’s an important distinction because people often end up leaving a restaurant with bad service after placing an order but still getting nothing served to their table but tap water. Since the diners have not gotten anything the restaurant charges for, people in this situation have not dined and dashed, even if the restaurant already started cooking their meal.
Dine and Dash Penalties
Since it is illegal to dine and dash, this means you can face criminal penalties for doing it. In most cases, the charges will be a misdemeanor as the majority of meals people skip out on are worth $950 or less. Those facing these charges can be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
If the meal was valued at over $950, the charges can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to one year in jail and as a felony, it can result in a sentence of up to three years in prison. It is often more difficult to fight these charges not only because they have a more strict sentence, but because prosecutors and judges are more inclined to think you intentionally ordered such an expensive meal with plans to leave without paying before you even sat down.
It’s also worth mentioning that since theft is a crime of moral turpitude, it can have a detrimental effect on anyone with a professional license or seeking employment.
Always Fight the Charges With a Lawyer
While you may be tempted to handle these charges yourself in order to save money, it’s worth recognizing the difference a top theft attorney can make in your case. In some cases, your attorney may be able to have a misdemeanor charged as an infraction, punishable by nothing more than a fine, or have a grand theft charge reduced to a misdemeanor -especially if the value of the meal was close to the $950 threshold. If you had a good reason for leaving without paying, your lawyer may even be able to have the charges dropped altogether.
Remember that you can not only get arrested for doing a dine and dash, but it can even leave you behind bars, which is why it is critical to contact a top attorney if you have been accused of defrauding an innkeeper. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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