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537 PC Defrauding an Innkeeper California Penal Code

July 2, 2021 California Penal Code

In California Penal Code 537 PC the crime of defrauding an innkeeper is defined as using fraud to obtain goods or services from a business without paying.  Depending on the specific circumstances, this can be charged as a misdemeanor petty theft or a felony grand theft.  Conviction carries a maximum sentence of up to 3 years in jail. A good or service can include such things as food, fuel, or accommodations at a hotel.


Here are some examples:

Dine and dash – having  a meal at a restaurant, and then walking out without paying the check

Gas theft –  filling your tank with gas as and then driving off without paying

Skipping out on a hotel bill – staying at a hotel and then leaving without checking out and paying the bill


Possible Defenses:

There are a few good legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of defrauding an innkeeper. These include demonstrating that a defendant had no intent to defraud the victim, made an honest mistake, or acted under duress.

Possible Penalties on Conviction under 537 PC:

An individual who violates Penal Code 537 is charged with a misdemeanor (as opposed to a felony or an infraction) if the value of the goods or services obtained was $950 or less. The theft charge is punishable by incarceration in the county jail for up to six months, and/or a maximum fine of $1,000, plus restitution to the victim.

In cases where the value of the theft was more than $950, then the violation is charged as a wobbler crime.  This means that the offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.   As a felony charge, the conviction can carry imprisonment in the California state prison for over a year.


The California criminal defense lawyers at Spodek Law Group will show you the following in this article:

  1. What exactly is meant by “defrauding an innkeeper”?
  2. What defenses are there to 537 PC charges?
  3. What penalties does defrauding an innkeeper carry?
  4. What offenses are related to defrauding an innkeeper?


  1. What exactly is meant by “defrauding an innkeeper”?

Penal Code 537 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to defraud an innkeeper.


In order to successfully demonstrate that a defendant is guilty under this code section, a prosecuting attorney must show three elements of the crime. These are that the accused:

  1. obtained a good or service from a food, lodging, or fuel business or similar service provider,
  2. obtained the goods or services without paying for them, and
  3. intended to defraud the business that was selling the goods or services.

In lieu of the above elements, a prosecutor could also attempt to convict a defendant by showing that:

  1. he or she obtained credit at a business that was providing a good or service, such as a hotel or restaurant, and
  2. he or she did so under false pretenses.

Please note that “defraud” means for a person to practice fraud, or, to use cheating and trickery to gain something of value.


Also note that “false pretenses” is illegally getting money, goods, or merchandise by fraud or misrepresentation, such as a false statement.


  1. What defenses are there to 537 PC charges?

A defendant can attempt to challenge a PC 537 accusation by raising a legal defense.  An effective legal defense may be helpful in reducing or dismissing a charge.

Three common defenses are:

The “No intent to defraud” defense

Recall that a person is only guilty if he acts with the intention of defrauding or via the closely associated act of behaving under false pretenses. Therefore, it is always a strong defense for an accused to demonstrate that he did not have this requisite intent.

The “Mistake” defense

Mistake is a legal defense where a defendant claims he did not do a criminal act on purpose: “I did it by mistake.”  This defense is successful when a defendant shows that he had no criminal intent harm anyone, he did not behave negligently, and he was engaged in lawful conduct at the time the fraud occurred.

For example, if the defendant honestly wrote down the wrong credit card information when remitting a payment, this is not fraud.


The “Duress” defense

Duress is a legal defense in which an accused claims and can demonstrate that someone else forced them to commit the act in question.  This defense applies to the very limited situation in which an individual commits a crime, in this case, defrauding an innkeeper, because somebody threatened to kill him if the crime was not committed.


  1. What penalties does defrauding an innkeeper carry?

A violation of this section is punished on the basis of the value of the services, goods or merchandise stolen.  Persons who violate 537 PC are charged with a misdemeanor if the value of the loss was $950 or less.  In these cases, the offense is then punishable by incarceration in the county jail for up to six months, and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

When the value of the service obtained was more than $950, then the violation is charged as a wobbler. Therefore, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.  As a felony conviction, the crime can be punished by confinement in the California state prison for over a year.


  1. What offenses are related to defrauding an innkeeper?

There are three laws related to defrauding an innkeeper. These are:

  • Shoplifting – PC 495.5;
  • Petty theft – PC 484(a); and,
  • Grand theft – PC 487.


If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime, we invite you to contact Spodek Law Group for a free consultation.  We can be reached seven days a week.   Your sensitive information remains confidential when you deal with one of our lawyers.



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