One of the great things about New York City is that a fun night of partying can be had relatively safely because taxis are so readily available to drive residents home. The proliferation of Uber has also made it easier for people without cash on hand to get a ride home after a night of drinking. However, sometimes, people having a good time in the city get into taxis without realizing that they don’t have any way of paying for the taxi – either they don’t have enough cash on hand or they have forgotten their wallet at the bar. It is a common and honest mistake made time and again by law-abiding citizens and professionals in New York City. What is surprising to most people, however, is that this mistake routinely results in a criminal arrest that can have serious immigration and job consequences for the person that made the innocent mistake.
Though it seems like a simple and small matter that ought to be handled civilly, taxi drivers typically will call police or drive their passengers to police precincts for arrest. There, police officers will typically arrest the passengers and fingerprint them and give them Desk Appearance Tickets charging them with one count of Theft of Services, a class A misdemeanor in violation of Penal Law Section 165.15 (PL 165.15). Recently, the stepdaughter of Attorney General Loretta Lynch was arrested for this mistake (though the arrest was ultimately voided when her boyfriend came to the precinct and paid her fare), and the attorneys at the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo have represented dozens of people charged criminally under this scenario.
A conviction for a misdemeanor gives a person a permanent criminal record and potentially carries a maximum jail sentence of one year. However, this is not a typical result for most individuals arrested and charged with Theft of Services (PL 165.15). It should be noted that a person is only guilty of this crime if he or she intends to withhold payment for taxi services – in most of these cases, the failure to pay is an accident, and not intentional. That being said, the arrest itself can have serious consequences for some professionals and non-citizens.