Laws about Defrauding an Innkeeper

defrauding an innkeeper

Have you ever thought of eating at a restaurant and then walking away without paying the bills? Do you know you can get penalized for this prank of yours?

Kind of act considered a crime probably known as Defrauding an Innkeeper implies deliberately using fraud to procure goods and services from businesses. For instance, California Penal Code under section 537 (PC 537) defines the crime of defrauding an innkeeper, which makes it illegal to:

“obtain any food, services, fuel, or accommodations at a hotel, inn, boardinghouse, apartment house, lodging house, restaurants, motel, bungalow court also in a marina, ski area, or public or private campground, marine facility, auto camp, without paying with an intention to defraud the manager or proprietor.” 

That sounds complicated, but this is almost California’s “dine and dash” law.

Meaning of important terms


An “innkeeper” is not just limited to hotel proprietors; every state includes different businesses in its criminal statute, which amounts to defrauding an innkeeper. For example, Virginia’s law covers hotels, motels, campgrounds, boarding houses, amusement parks, restaurants, or other eating facilities.

Good and services

State statutes may also differ on which services or goods are enclosed by their law against defrauding an innkeeper.

Washington’s law against defrauding innkeepers encloses the following goods and services:

  1. Food,
  2. Money,
  3. Credit,
  4. Use of ski area facilities,
  5. Lodging, or
  6. Accommodation.

California’s law forbids using fraud to obtain;

  1. Food
  2. Fuel
  3. Services
  4. Accommodations, or
  5. Credit

Penalties of conviction for defrauding an innkeeper

In several states, the penalties of a conviction rely on the value of the loss.

For example, in California State, the threshold payment is $950. If the good’s value or services were less than this amount, it is a misdemeanor. Defrauding further than this amount is a wobbler offense, and prosecutors can urge wobblers as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

By comparison, the law in Washington is very severe, the threshold amount being only $75.

In Virginia, the amount also depicts a line between a felony and a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, the threshold amount is one-thousand dollars.

Few states treat all cases as an exact classification of a crime. For example, in Michigan, all charges of defrauding an innkeeper are misdemeanors, no concern the value of the theft.

In most states, if the value obtained is less than or equal to $950, it’s a misdemeanor petty theft charge that takes a fine of up to $1,000, plus penalties and up to $4,000 that can be expanded to the total assessment of the loss. There is also up to six months of utmost time in county jail.

If the value taken is over $950, it would be theft and could charge as a felony or misdemeanor, relying on some other factors. If the person executing the crime has a previous history of a similar offense, they would probably get charged with a felony, with a maximum sentence of up to three years in prison. If the toll is a misdemeanor or theft, the sentence would be up to a year in county jail.

Evidence to prove to defraud an innkeeper

The circumstances of defrauding an innkeeper are:

  • You procure a good or service from a business;
  • You did not give money for the goods or services; and
  • You intended to defraud.
  • In any theft case, your intent plays a crucial role in committing an offense. If the prosecution cannot prove that you intended to commit a theft, no judge or jury can prove you guilty.

Various state statutes, like California and Washington, explicitly state that leaving a business or fleeing without paying is an intent to defraud that lays the onus on the defendant to exhibit that it was a mistake or to put up a different defense.

In other states, it is up to the prosecutor to prove that the defendant had the malicious intent to defraud the proprietor.

Defense to use when charged with defrauding an innkeeper

  • Mistake of fact
  • Duress
  • Lack of intent to defraud

For example, if you were in a cafe or restaurant, having a meal, fully hoping to pay the bill, meanwhile you got a phone call saying your son had been in an accident. And you rushed out of the restaurant without paying. Here, there was no intent to defraud, simply a mistake of fact which is the most commonly used defense for such cases.

Another defense that is not in common is duress which means a defense that concentrates on someone else’s behavior to compel the defendant to act. It is a legal defense in which you insist that you broke the law only because someone else intimidated you. This way, you can be defended by your attorney.

Need for the defrauding an innkeeper law

We already have laws against theft, then why do we have this special law?

  • By enacting a law that specially deals with specific enterprises, like hotels, petrol pumps, and restaurants, state administrators create special rules for these cases.
  • Laws that deal with crime, in general, are superseded by these specific rules, which enable states to govern or punish particular kinds of conduct with more accuracy.
  • Defrauding an innkeeper can give these types of businesses more precaution from fraud, for example, signifying intent from absconding.


Defrauding an innkeeper is obtaining goods and services from businesses and not paying. However, several states have different statutes and laws for penalizing this as a crime. The law for defrauding an innkeeper is much desired in modern times to guarantee protection for businesses from fraud, and defense like the absence of intent is available to the accused.


Does leaving a business without spending money prima facie evidence is an intent to defraud?

Yes, it is prima facie evidence of an intent to defraud in States like California and Washington.

Does trespassing and defrauding an innkeeper vary from each other?

Indeed, they are very different; here, trespassing refers to going onto anyone’s land or property without permission, and defrauding means getting something from somebody dishonest.

What is the threshold amount in California for a felony?

The threshold amount in California for committing a felony is more than $950.

Is defrauding an innkeeper a severe crime?

Indeed, defrauding an innkeeper is a severe crime, and by committing this, one can get penalized with up to 3 years in state jail.

How can I accomplish the defense in such a case?

Hiring a professional criminal lawyer help to accomplish the defense in such a case.