Can I be prosecuted for theft of services if I paid a bill late?

UPDATED: Oct 7, 2010

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Can I be prosecuted for theft of services if I paid a bill late?

I paid my quarterly sewer bill in cash. Lost my receipt. Got a letter stating I hadn’t paid. Disputed it. They reported me to police who began and “investigation. I paid that bill plus interest along with the next quarter’s payment. A year later the cops say they are prosecuting me for theft of services for that one quarter since I said I paid & could not produce the receipt. Since they accepted payment and marked my bill paid and I’ve been up to date since I made the double payment can I be prosecuted for theft of services and if not is there a statute I can cite that covers it?

Asked on October 7, 2010 under Criminal Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Failing to pay for goods or services is not a crime. A crime--and therefore criminal liability--requires also a criminal state of mind, known as a criminal "mens rea." Innocent failure to pay shoudl not result in prosecution.

That said, whether the police are mistaken, were willfully misinformed, etc., if they are threatening prosecution, you need to take it seriously. You should retain an attorney who can help you untangle this situation. Also put together all evidence of payment--bills that don't show a balance; cancelled checks or credit card statements (depending on how you paid); etc. You  should be able to resolve this favorably, but an attorney will help you do so much more certainly and quickly.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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