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Criminal charges

defrauding an innkeeper

Most states have a specific statute (often called defrauding an innkeeper) that makes it a criminal offense to obtain food, lodging, fuel, or other accommodations at a restaurant, hotel, ski resort, campground, marina, gas station, or other establishment, with the intent not to pay for such goods and services—or to secure credit at such an establishment through fraud or other means of deceit (false pretenses). Proof that a person refused or neglected to pay for such food, lodging, fuel, or accommodations, or gave payment that was not honored (declined credit card, bad check) is generally proof of such fraudulent intent not to pay for the goods or services.

The definitions and punishment for this criminal offense vary from state to state, but generally may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or as a felony, and may include confinement in jail or state prison. In some states, if the amount owed was disputed and the amount offered in payment was refused, a person cannot be convicted under the statute.

In Texas, the offense of defrauding an innkeeper is covered under the Texas Penal Code, specifically under the offense of Theft of Service (Section 31.04). This statute makes it illegal to intentionally or knowingly secure performance of a service by deception, threat, or false token. This includes obtaining services such as food, lodging, or other accommodations at an establishment without paying and with the intent to avoid payment. The level of the offense and the associated penalties depend on the value of the service stolen. It can range from a Class C misdemeanor for services valued at less than $100, to a felony of the first degree for services valued at $300,000 or more. If a person disputes the amount owed and offers to pay what they believe is the correct amount, this may be a defense against the charge, depending on the circumstances. An attorney can provide specific guidance on how the law might apply to a particular situation.

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