Defrauding an Innkeeper – California Penal Code 537

The theft crime of “defrauding an innkeeper” is described under California Penal Code 537. This form of theft could even be filed as a felony offense, depending on the total value of the theft. Defrauding an innkeeper includes a variety of theft offenses, including failing to pay for good or services, such as paying for a meal at restaurant or staying at a hotel.

For example, you order food at a restaurant and after eating tell the waitress you forgot your wallet in the car and need to go retrieve it in order to pay. Instead, you simply leave without paying and never had intent to pay for it. Skipping out of a restaurant without paying is probably the most common type of PC 537 defrauding an innkeeper.

Another example involves failure to pay for services at a hotel. Let’s says you told the hotel clerk you would pay cash for a hotel room after staying there a few days. Next, you run up a tab on room service and pay-per-view movies. Then, you leave the hotel during late night hours without paying and in fact, never had an intent to pay I the first place.

Today, modern technology allows paying for goods or services online with stolen or expired credit cards very easy.  This makes defrauding an innkeeper a common California theft crime.

As stated, the penalties for defrauding an innkeeper will depend on the total value of the goods or services that were taken without paying. PC 537 is typically filed as either a petty theft or grand theft crime.

To give readers a better understanding of defrauding an innkeeper charges, our California criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

What is the Definition of Defrauding an Innkeeper?

California Penal Code Section 537 defines defrauding an innkeeper as:

Any person who obtains food, fuel, services, accommodations at a hotel, restaurant, apartment, campground, or ski area without paying, with an intent to defraud, or obtains credit using false pretense, or absconds by force or threats, removes their baggage with an intent not to pay for their food or accommodations.

To be found guilty of defrauding an innkeeper as defined under Penal Code 537, the prosecutor has to be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime:

  • Defendant obtained goods or services from a business
  • Obtained these services without paying, and
  • Had the specific intent to defraud the business for the goods or services

The prosecutor might also attempt to prove you obtained a form of credit from a business, such as a motel, using false pretenses. The terms “defraud” or “false pretense” means you used deceit, tricks, or misrepresentation to obtain something of value.

It should be noted there are some California crimes that are closely related to defrauding an innkeeper under Penal Code 537, including:

Penal Code 484(a) – Petty Theft
Penal Code 487 – Grand Theft
Penal Code 495.5 – Shoplifting
Penal Code 532 – Theft by False Pretenses

Penalties Defrauding an Innkeeper

If convicted of PC 537 defrauding an innkeeper, the penalties will depend on the value of the goods or services that were taken without paying. Defrauding an innkeeper can be filed as either petty theft or grand theft and will always be based on the total loss sustained by the victim.

If convicted of misdemeanor petty theft, which means the total loss was $950 or less, the penalties include up to 6 months in a county jail, a fine up to $1,000, and a requirement to pay victim restitution.

If the value of the goods or services taken without paying is greater than $950, then you will be facing grand theft charges, which is a “wobbler,” and the case can be filed as either misdemeanor or felony crime.

The prosecutor’s decision on how to file the case will defend on your prior criminal history. This means if you have a prior Penal Code 537 convictions, the prosecutor will normally decide to file a felony case.

Thus, if convicted of a felony grand theft, the penalties will include up to 3 years in a California state prison, a fine up to $10,000, and victim restitution. If convicted of misdemeanor grand theft, the penalties will include up to one year in a county jail and a fine.

Defenses for PC 537 Defrauding an Innkeeper Charges

Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can use a variety of strategies to defend you against charges of PC 537 defrauding an innkeeper. We need to first review all the details of the case in order to determine the proper approach.  However, some of the most common defenses include:

No intent to defraud

Recall the definition above of PC 537 defrauding an innkeeper. You can’t be found guilty unless the prosecutor is able to prove you had a specific intent to defraud. Depending on the details of the case, we might be able to make an argument this element of the crime doesn’t exist.

We might be able to prove there wasn’t a criminal intent. Perhaps you became distracted over an important event and your act of not paying for good or services was not on purpose, but simply an oversight.

Mistake defense

We might be able to make an argument your failure to pay for good or services was an honest mistake. Perhaps there was some miscommunication or simply a misunderstanding and you didn’t commit a PC 537 defrauding an innkeeper crime on purpose.

If there are allegations that you violated California Penal Code 537, defrauding an innkeeper, call our criminal defense lawyers to review the case and options.

Our firm has a track record of success in theft related offense and might be able to successfully negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or even get the charges dropped through prefiling intervention.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We also have an office located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (424) 372-3112.