By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Theft of service is a criminal charge where the alleged victim accuses someone of stealing services instead of actual property. An example may include where someone hires a contractor to build something that he never intends to pay for. Also, it is a law used by rental companies to charge people with theft if they don’t return the rented property. It is controlled by Texas Penal Code 31.04(a) and says in relevant part:
“A person commits theft of service if, with intent to avoid payment for service that he knows is provided only for compensation:
“(1) he intentionally or knowingly secures performance of the service by deception, threat, or false token;
“(2) having control over the disposition of services of another to which he is not entitled, he intentionally or knowingly diverts the other’s services to his own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled to them;
“(3) having control of personal property under a written rental agreement, he holds the property beyond the expiration of the rental period without the effective consent of the owner of the property, thereby depriving the owner of the property of its use in further rentals; or
“(4) he intentionally or knowingly secures the performance of the service by agreeing to provide compensation and, after the service is rendered, fails to make payment after receiving notice demanding payment.
The punishment levels for theft of service are the same as for normal theft charges. This is to say that the level of offense is governed by the dollar amount alleged to have been stolen.
Theft of service is generally much harder to prove than a normal theft charge. This is because there often isn’t a clear distinction between a bad business deal and fraud. The key is the “intent” element. The state must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused planned to steal the services all along. This can be extremely difficult because often the motive for someone not paying a bill lacks criminal culpability.
The second part of the statute in 31.04 creates presumptions that the court can use to instruct the jury that a person is presumed to have stolen in certain circumstances. An example of this is where an accused fails to make payment within 10 days of receiving notice from the victim to make payment. The presumption, though, is rebuttable and the jury does not have to accept it as true.
Theft of service — like theft — is a very serious charge. Though to criminalize a deal gone bad may seem easy to deal with — you should get a lawyer regardless!
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any specific situation you should contact an attorney directly.