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

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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

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 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.


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