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Skipping Out on Your New York City Bar Tab: A Criminal Law Analysis of NY PL 165.15 “Theft of Services”

One may assume that failure to pay a bar tab automatically violates New York Penal Law 165.15. In fact, Theft of Services – a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail – is often the crime charged in such cases when an individual is arrested for failing to pay their bill at a bar, pub or tavern. In its eleven distinct subsections, Theft of Services defines the numerous New York crimes involving service theft throughout the boroughs of New York City including Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The question remains, however. Is failure to pay a bar bill a violation of NY PL 165.15?

The most commonly charged subsection of Theft Services that criminal lawyers in New York handle are violations of NY PL 165.15(2). This subsections establishes that you are guilty of this misdemeanor crime when you not merely avoid paying for a restaurant service that you received, but that this avoidance is intentional. The law even establishes that you are presumed to have intended to not pay for theses services if you do not pay for the same. In short, if you skip out on a restaurant or hotel bill you may be guilty of NY PL 165.15(2). While officers can take the accused into custody (usually spending up to one night in jail), they frequently issue a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) for NY PL 165.15, which requires the defendant to return to court on another date without going through central booking.

Do not underestimate the severity of a conviction for Theft of Services or, for that matter, even an arrest for this crime. In addition to facing possible jail time (albeit extremely unlikely for a first or second time offender in New York City), the defendant could have a criminal record that may have a significant impact on immigration or any certifications or professional licenses. This is true not only when there is a conviction, but the potential for long term issues exists even as a result of just an arrest. Again, first time offenders may avoid much of these consequences, but consulting with an experienced New York criminal lawyer is something worth considering.

Now that this crime is addressed in general terms, how is it that if you skip out on your bar tab that your conduct may not be considered Theft of Services under NYPL 165.15(2)? A case from Queens County, People v. Sei Young Choi, 170 Misc. 2d 598 (1996), sheds some light on the subject. In Choi, the defendant allegedly skipped out on a $270 bar tab. The establishment only served alcoholic beverages (i.e. they did not serve food). Therefore, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges alleging that the charges were erroneous and a false application of the relevant laws. Essentially, Choi argued that alcoholic beverages at a bar are not covered under the statute and therefore he was not properly charged. The court agreed with the defendant’s interpretation. The court strictly construed the statute writing “it appears from the defendant’s arguments and a reading of the statute that the alcoholic beverages are not restaurant services in that a bar is not necessarily a restaurant.”

In other words, NYPL 165.15(2) most certainly covers restaurant and hotel services, but it does not necessarily include alcohol served in bars. If a bar, pub, or tavern exclusively sells alcoholic beverages and has no association with a restaurant (or none that the prosecution establishes in a complaint) then a defendant who skips out on a bar tab may not be correctly charged under the Theft of Services statute (note the term “may not”). It is important to recognize, however, that a bar which also serves food can be considered a restaurant for purposes of the statute [See, e.g., Matter of Point Lookout Civic Assn., 94 A.D.2d 744 (2d. Dept. 1983)]. Furthermore, skipping out on a tab at a bar that is part of a restaurant may result in conviction of New York Penal Law 165.15(2). In People v. McDonald, 179, Misc.2d 479 (1999) the defendant ordered several alcoholic beverages at a bar that was established as “a part of the CafĂ© Pierre” which was a restaurant. Therefore, the court ruled that the defendant was properly charged with 165.15(2) because the alcoholic beverages were, legally speaking, served in a ‘restaurant.’ In short, if the prosecution can establish a sufficient bridge linking a bar with restaurant services then the defendant may be arrested and charged for violating the Theft of Services statute. Obviously, each case is distinct. To determine if the accusations against you satisfy the letter of the law, a separate review of the evidence and facts in your case is necessary.

To educate yourself on the crime of Theft of Services, and New York City Desk Appearance Tickets, follow any of the links above. In addition to the NewYorkTheftAndLarcenyLawyersBlog.Com, please review our main website at as well as the NewYorkCriminalLawyerBlog.Com. The former has a tremendous amount of information on criminal statutes, cases interpreting those crimes and analysis of cases in the news. Lastly, should you need further information on Desk Appearance Tickets in New York City, all of these resources, as well as NYDeskAppearanceTicket.Com have ample information to get you started.

A New York criminal defense firm, Saland Law PC’s founding criminal lawyers served as Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys prior to establishing the defense practice. The New York criminal lawyers at Saland Law PC represent clients in all stages of criminal litigation throughout the New York City region.

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