In 2016, Theft of Services (New York Penal Law Section 165.15) was the second most commonly charged crime in New York City, second only to assault in the third degree. (See Annual Report of New York City Criminal Court, 2016). To those unfamiliar with New York City Criminal Courts, this might seem surprising, if even a little mystifying, in part because "theft of services" is an unfamiliar sort of offense.
But the frequency with which Theft of Services is charged in New York City comes into focus when you begin to appreciate the two primary circumstances where it comes up: fare evasion on the New York City subway or bus systems and taxi cab fare disputes.
When people are challenged by the police for evading the subway fare, whether by "jumping the turnstile" or by simply walking through an exit gate, they are subject to arrest for "theft of services" under Penal Law Section 165.15. Theft of services under 165.15 for fare evasion in the subway or bus system is an A misdemeanor charge. The truth is, however, that for someone without a criminal history, the statistical likelihood of concluding a properly managed case with a criminal record or jail is nearly non-existent. An experienced New York City criminal lawyer should be well able to navigate such a case to a conclusion that either ends up the equivalent of a parking ticket with a fine or dismissed through an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal procedure in exchange, perhaps, for some community service or participation in a counseling session.
Naturally, legal advice is necessary to rule out or address potential pitfalls associated with arrest for any crime, such as immigration, employment, school or other consequences. But such cases are manageable problems in the hands of experienced criminal defense lawyers.
Taxi Fare Disputes
The second primary sort of theft of services cases in New York City are cases where there is some sort of dispute with a cab driver over the payment of a fare. Although there are several contexts in which these disputes arise, perhaps the most common is when a passenger is perhaps somewhat or quite a bit intoxicated and when the time comes to pay there is some difficulty in locating a wallet or cash. Cab drivers in this situation have historically had something of a short fuse and low tolerance for this, and will routinely simply call the police. Often the police will make efforts to resolve the issue, but especially when the passenger is intoxicated, these efforts may be unsuccessful. The result is that the person is arrested and charged with "theft of services" over a cab fare that is often less than $50.
Again, like with the subway fare situation, the charges are technically misdemeanor criminal charges, but in most cases, absent some extraordinary circumstances, in the hands of an experienced New York City Criminal attorney, they are subject to reasonable resolution. Also, as with the subway fare evasion cases, care needs to be devoted to ruling out or addressing potential collateral issues like immigration, employment, and educational problems associated with the arrest and prosecution in Criminal Court.
As "silly" as often it may seem based on the underlying conduct in question, it is important to remember that the charge is a crime and you are being ordered to appear in Criminal Court. And so it needs to be handled properly.
Beware Arresting Officers Who Try to Be Your Lawyer
I know what the police officer who arrested you probably told you. You were probably told that it was "nothing" or that "it would just be dismissed" or that "you'll just pay a fine". When police officers play lawyer and attempt to give legal advice to the very people they arrest, you need to take a step back and for a moment consider the situation.
Your "police officer lawyer" is not responsible to you for the advice. His or her name is not on a notice of appearance. The officer will not be there in Court to advocate for you. The officer did not (I don't think) ask you about education, immigration, or employment issues to rule out potential issues there or discuss the consequences to your career of the various potential outcomes. If you rely on the police officer's advice and things don't happen to work out as perfectly as the officer predicted, you have no recourse. You can't file a complaint about ineffective assistance of counsel or complain to the bar association about the lack of quality of the legal advice provided. It may be that the police officer who arrested you was a super nice person who was even trying to make you feel better and may even have been giving you the best information he or she had. But none of that somehow makes the officer a lawyer or somehow makes the officer's advice good legal advice.
For legal advice when you are being accused of a crime, even when that crime is something as seemingly "simple' as theft of services, it just makes sense to get that legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer, and not the police officer who arrested you and who will never see you again or be accountable to you in any way.
Being arrested for theft of services in New York City may be a relatively small problem, but is a problem that deserves to be solved well.
We have been helping people through these problems for more than 27 years, in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan. We can help you too. Call for your free consultation.