Theft of services (TOS) is a criminal offense that involves the failure to pay for services or goods received. This can be committed intentionally or by mistake and is a common offense in the United States as there are a myriad of ways such a charge can result.
So, in this article, we are going to delve deep into what constitutes the offense of theft of services, the penalties, possible defenses and related topics. Kindly keep reading to inform yourself.
What is Theft of services?
- force or any other means designed to avoid the due payment for the services that the person knows are available only for compensation.
The offense can also result from a circumstance where a person in charge of the disposition of a service of another, diverts such a service to his own benefit or the benefit of another person he knows is not entitled to the service.
In simple terms, it is a form of theft that involves accessing a service rendered but refusing to pay. TOS can result by genuine mistake without people even realizing they have committed such. Theft of services is a misdemeanor offense when it involves small amounts of money but can escalate to a felony if the amount involved is huge.
For example, according to the Maine criminal code, the following are the classifications of Theft involving a service based on the value of the service.
- Class D crime – If the service is valued as exceeding $500 but not more than $1000
- Class C crime – If the value of the service exceeds $1000 but not more than $10,000
- Class B crime – If value is over $10,000
Elements of theft of services
From the definition, the elements that a prosecution need to prove beyond reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction are:
- That theft of compensable service indeed has occurred,
- That defendant is the one who committed the offense,
- That the defendant intentionally or knowingly committed the offense.
In simple terms, the prosecution needs to show that the said offense has taken place, that it was the act or omission of the person being prosecuted and that his intent was to commit the offense.
Possible defenses to theft of service charge
From the elements the prosecution needs to prove, a defense could arise from any of them. Your criminal defense attorney, will assess the facts and where possible, raise any of the following defenses.
1. Wrong defendant
Here, it can be argued that you in fact did not commit the offense. This is when you’re wrongly accused of the offense. It can happen from mistaken identity or in some circumstances, malice-inspired prosecution by the complainant. The onus is on the prosecution to prove that you’re the right defendant.
2. Lack of criminal intent
If you genuinely did not know that the service, you’re accused of pilfering was compensable (That is, you didn’t know that payment was required), or did not know that you had not paid for the service, the criminal intent aspect will not lie.
Theft of services Missouri
In Missouri, the relevant law that criminalizes TOS is Section 570.030 of Title XXXVIII. It defines theft in general and theft of services as the appropriation of a property or services of another with the purpose to deprive him or her of it, either without his or her consent or by means of deceit or coercion.
The classification of the offense and penalty for a conviction of theft of services depends on the value of the services criminally appropriated. They are as follows:
- The offense of theft of services in Missouri is a class C felony if the value of the services appropriated is $25,000 or more.
- It is a class D felony if the value is $750 or more but less than $25,000
- It is class D misdemeanor if the value of the services appropriated is less than $150.
How much theft is a felony in Missouri?
In Missouri, theft of a property or services of value $750 or more is a felony. However, there are classes of felony, and they are as follows:
- Class D felony – Theft of property or service with value of $750 or exceeding that amount but less than $25,000.
- Class C felony – If the value of the property or service is $25,000 or above.
Theft of services examples
There are a lot of instances where theft of services can occur. Below we take a look at a few examples.
- Taking the train without a ticket,
- Stealing electricity,
- Absconding from hotel to avoid paying your bill,
- Absconding from a hospital to evade payment of accrued bill.
As is evident in the examples listed, while common theft deals with the taking of tangible items or goods or funds, theft of services involves the intangibles received that require payment.
Is theft of services criminal or civil?
Theft of services is a criminal offense punishable by law, however, as it is the case of many criminal offenses, the victims have a right to sue in a civil process to claim compensation for the tort if they can prove damages from your action. The damages can be economic, reputational or emotional. Also, the judge can order restitution as part of the punishment if convicted.
As an example, A diverts a life-saving service to C which was rather meant to benefit B, while A can be criminally prosecuted for theft involving a service, B can also sue for compensation if B can prove the denial of the service, he was meant to receive resulted in same damage to him.
Theft of services is a criminal offence in the United States and all states have their own laws classifying the offence, particularly based on the value of the service appropriated without consent or through fraud or deceit.
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