What is the charge and penalty for stealing electricity?

I fell on some hard times and had my electricity shut off in the dead of winter. I have a 9 year-old daughter and obviously needed heat and hot water, so I took matters into my own hands and turned the electric service back on. I ran it that way for approximately 3 weeks at which time I removed the jumpers from the box and moved out of the home. A month later the power company contacted me and said that they will not press charges if I made payments, which I have done. However, now they say that if I don’t pay it all immediately, they will press charges. The amount is $1500. What should I do? I can’t pay it all right now

Asked on October 7, 2010 under Criminal Law, Alabama

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Technically, a business should not threaten to press charges unless something stolen is repaid--either they should press charges, if they believe it a crime, or they should not. However, this situation happens all the time, and you need to  be aware that you could face criminal charges and you could also be sued for the full amount owed. Its therefore in your interest to settle this amicably. You should do some or all of the following: (1) try to work out with them a  payment  plan you can actually meet; (2) contact local charities and  assistance organizations, to see if any could either give you the money for the electricity or at least loan it under terms you could later repay; (3) contact legal aid and explain the situation--they may be able to help negotiate something with the utility. Good luck.

Also note: you have a right to challenge what they say you owe--ask them to support it. $1,500 for 3 weeks seems high.


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