Washington D.C. theft crimes are gaining more attention, following a Fox 5 investigation of Metro fare evasion.
Washington D.C. defense attorneys know that many people may not see this as actual theft. However, according to the Fox investigation, officials believe people skipping out on fares are costing the district millions of dollars.
While you might not be viewed as a career criminal, this is just the kind of dumb charge that is enough to haunt a person and can dampen future job prospects.
Under D.C. Statute 22-3211, theft is defined as taking someone else's property - or wrongfully obtaining the property of another with the intent to deprive someone else of its benefit and either use it for yourself or to give or sell to someone else. Subsection c says that in the case of theft of services, the person obtains services that would have been available only with compensation and then left without making that payment.
In this case, the services rendered is the Metro ride. Metro rail fares range from $1.60 to $5.00. So it doesn't seem like much - but you can be prosecuted nonetheless.
The news channel went "undercover" with police. Within just a few minutes, police find a young man trying to squeeze through the fare gates without paying. Actually, they spotted several people - he was just the one they were able to catch.
In some cases, people do what's called "piggybacking." This is where a person follows a passenger who has paid very closely so that they are able to slip through before the gate closes.
In other cases, there is abuse of the student pass. D.C. school students get reduced fare rates, but it's supposed to only be used by students. But other people regularly use their friends' and relatives' student cards. That, too, will warrant a citation.
Last year, police reported they issued more than 4,500 tickets for fare evasion and another 2,500 warnings.
While it may be tempting to brush off such an infraction as essentially harmless, officers did note that if you are found guilty, you will have a criminal record.
A lot of riders just pay the fine without trying to fight it. Those fines can range from $1 to $100, but generally fall somewhere around $50.
But in some of these cases, it's possible someone could get wrongly cited. It's busy, it's crowded and transit police aren't interested in hearing an explanation.
While Metro police don't have exact figures for exactly what they may be losing, in New York City, transit officials estimate that for each ticket they hand out, there are roughly another 150 that get away with it. Using that standard, it would mean some 700,000 people who are skipping out on their Metro fare in D.C. With the average fare at about $2.60, that means the transit agency is losing almost $2 million a year.
Of course, no one person would be prosecuted on that scale, but it gives you a perspective on how commonplace this has become.
And of course, the more you do it, the more likely you are to get caught. Officers compare it to doing a "dine-and-dash," which is when you go out to a restaurant to eat and then leave before paying the tab - same concept, police say.
It's also important to point out that when you are busted for fare evasion, police can easily scan your information to see if you are wanted for anything else - either failure to appear on a court date or default on your child support payments.
Is it really worth it for $1.50?
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