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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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Can I go to jail if I “Dine and Dash” in California?

By Spodek Law Group | February 13, 2023

The Act of Dining and Dashing in California

The mere act of leaving without paying the bill, also known as “dine and dash,” can lead to serious legal repercussions in California. It’s not just associated with restaurants but also with hotels, campgrounds, gas stations, and other establishments that offer goods and services. People may do it for fun, due to financial difficulties, slow service, or unsatisfactory experiences.

California Law on Defrauding an Innkeeper

Under California Penal Code Section 537(a), it’s a criminal offense to obtain any food, fuel, services, or accommodations from an establishment listed below without paying for them and with the intent to defraud the owner:

Lodging house
Apartment house
Bungalow court
Marine facility
Ski area
Public or private campground
Additionally, it’s illegal to obtain credit, food, fuel, services, or accommodations from the above places and remove any of your baggage by force, menace, or threats with the intent not to pay for them.

The Intent to Defraud and Its Proof

To be charged with defrauding an innkeeper, you must have left without paying or offering to pay with the intent to defraud. Evidence of your departure without payment will be taken as prima facie evidence of your intent to defraud, according to Penal Code Section 537(c).

Possible Penalties for Dine and Dash in California

The penalties for defrauding an innkeeper depend on the value of the goods and services you obtained:

If it’s $950 or less, you could be fined up to $1,000 and/or sentenced to up to six months in county jail.
If it’s more than $950, you could face one to three years in county jail or state prison.
Besides criminal sanctions, you may also be prohibited from entering the business where the offense allegedly occurred.

Defending Against Defrauding an Innkeeper Charges

Not all cases of dine and dash are clear-cut. You may have viable defenses, such as:

Lack of intent to defraud
You didn’t leave without paying
You didn’t receive any goods or services
You were under the influence of drugs or alcohol
You had a mental condition that prevented you from forming criminal intent
Consulting with a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options in a dine and dash case. With the right defense strategy, you may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

What Happens When You Dine and Dash in California?

A Serious Offense with Serious Consequences

Imagine walking out of a restaurant or bar in California without paying for your food and drinks. While some may consider this act a harmless prank, the reality is that it’s a crime that can land you in jail. Known as “dine and dash,” this offense has serious legal repercussions that can affect your life for years to come.

California Penal Code Section 537 PC: What You Need to Know

California has a specific criminal statute that deals with dine and dash situations, though it goes by a rather misleading name. Called the “Defrauding an Innkeeper” law, California Penal Code Section 537 PC may sound like it only applies to hotels and motels. However, it is much broader than that.

Under Section 537(a), it is a criminal offense to obtain any food, fuel, services, or accommodations at a range of establishments without paying, with the intent to defraud the proprietor or manager. This includes hotels, inns, restaurants, boarding houses, lodging houses, apartment houses, bungalow courts, motels, marinas, marine facilities, auto camps, ski areas, and public or private campgrounds.

If you leave without paying, it must be done with the intent to defraud for it to be a crime. Evidence that you left the establishment without paying will be taken as prima facie evidence of your intent to defraud.

Penalties for Dine and Dash Crimes

The penalties for dine and dash crimes vary depending on the value of the credit, food, and beverages that were obtained without payment. If the value is $950 or less, you could face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in county jail. If the value is more than $950, you could be sentenced to one to three years in county jail.

However, not all cases are cut and dry. A good criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Dining and Dashing: More Than Just Restaurants

Dine and dash is not limited to restaurants; it can occur in other places too, such as hotels, campgrounds, and gas stations. People might do it for fun, because they can’t afford to pay, waited too long for the bill to arrive, or were unhappy with their experience.

If you’re accused of dine and dash, there are several defenses that your attorney might use, such as lack of intent, mistaken identity, or intoxication.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, dine and dash is a serious crime in California that can have significant legal consequences. To avoid getting in trouble with the law, it’s important to pay your bill before leaving any establishment, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, or any other place that provides goods or services in exchange for payment. If you’re facing dine and dash charges, contact a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights.

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