Theft of services occurs when a person steals or uses services without paying for them, such as through illegal use of cable or electricity, using a wireless Internet connection without permission and leaving a restaurant without paying for the meal. The laws for the theft of services in each state vary, but states typically have similar penalties for committing this crime.
A person found guilty of theft of services may have to pay a fine--based on the value of the services--starting at $500 or more. In addition to the regular fine, some states apply additional fines for each charge of theft.
Based on the value of the service, the theft counts as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor could require up to one year of prison time based on each state’s law. Felony charges, for a higher value of the services stolen, often require longer prison time. Texas, for example, considers it a felony for the theft of a service valued at $1,500 or more.
A judge may allow community service instead of prison time for a service with a small value and a misdemeanor charge. Community service can include volunteer activities such as picking up trash along the highway, serving food at a homeless shelter or speaking to kids about the consequences of committing a crime.
In lieu of serving prison or jail time, the judge may place a person with a theft of services conviction on probation. This option, mostly provided in misdemeanor cases, can last up to five years, depending on the state laws, and may require regular visits to an assigned probation officer for monitoring.
In addition to paying fines, the judge may order restitution--the value of the service stolen--paid to the victim of the theft. In most cases, the judge may add damages fees to the amount of restitution if the theft has caused the victim a loss of income or earnings.