Florida Legislature Attempting to Make Utility Theft A Felony Charge

House Bill 191, sponsored by Rep. Dan Raulerson, is attempting to change utility theft to a felony charge. Utility theft currently is a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida state law. Those convicted usually receive probation and a large bill from the utility company. If this bill becomes law, the most extreme conviction could be a first-degree felony exposing a person to up to 30 years in jail, on top of a $10,000 fine and money one will directly owe the utility company. There is an identical bill filed in the Senate. The change also increases the amount offenders can be held liable for by the utility company to three times the amount of services unlawfully obtained.

Florida Statute 812.14(2)(c) states “It is unlawful to use or receive the direct benefit from the use of a utility, cable television service, or community antenna line service knowing, or under such circumstances as would induce a reasonable person to believe, that such direct benefits have resulted from any tampering with, altering of, or injury to any connection, wire, conductor, meter, pipe, conduit, line, cable, transformer, amplifier, or other apparatus or device owned, operated, or controlled by such utility or cable television service or community antenna line service, for the purpose of avoiding payment.”

The theft of utilities in Jacksonville has caused electricity and water/sewage companies to be vigilant and aggressive in uncovering fraud and prosecuting the utility theft. Sometimes the discovery of theft of utilities comes as a result of observations made by a utility company employee, neighbors, or unusual spikes in power usage from month to month (especially when the small number of people alleged to reside in the home is taken into consideration). In either circumstance, law enforcement may be summoned to the scene to investigate and pursue the theft or other related charges.

Many of these utility theft cases are tied to marijuana grow houses, where offenders use high amounts of energy, and in some cases, tamper with the meter or bypass it entirely to avoid raising suspicion. Often, these types of hydroponic operations include specially designed timing systems for lighting and irrigation, as well as electric meter diversions. Because of this, electricians and power companies are another important resource for the police. FPL can monitor spikes in energy use and report unusually high electric bills to law enforcement agencies. In addition, the very electricians who are paid by growers to bypass electric meters are often informants. Many suspects arrested in grow-house cases will face felony charges for drug manufacturing, but only a misdemeanor charge for the theft of electricity.

Utility theft is a damaging charge in and of itself, and when complicated by the increase in felony conviction, one’s reputation is severely at risk. Theft crimes are crimes involving “dishonesty or untruthfulness” that can often cause potential employers to reject one’s application for employment for fear that one’s propensity for theft might carry over into the work place, regardless of whether one’s present conduct is theft or not. Furthermore, if one is convicted of this offense, one’s credibility will be forever suspect in any future court proceedings since the State will be permitted to ask one under oath about one’s past convictions, particularly about those crimes involving “untruthfulness or dishonesty.”
If one obtains an experienced Jacksonville utility theft defense attorney however, one will have a strong chance of not only having one’s side heard, but a strong chance for a reasonable judgment on the case in general. One should not risk one’s chances on a judge’s good nature. One should obtain a sure help for the future.

The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

Additional Source: Bill in Florida Legislature targets people who steal utilities, Jackie Winchester, News-Press.com

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