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PC 498 Theft of Utility Services (Theft of Electricity, Gas, or Water): Law, Penalties, & Criminal Defense

Information related the crime of theft of utility services is found at California penal code section 498(a) through 498(d). The following is a summary of Penal code 498(a) through 498(d), including a discussion of the penalties related to theft of utility services and common defenses used against a criminal charge of the same.


To begin, theft of utility services includes the theft of electricity, gas, water utility from a public or private company. The crime may be committed by an individual, a firm, an association, a corporation, and other legal entity (PC 498(a)(1)).


Also, “theft” of the utility service is usually accomplished by diverting, or tampering with, the course or path of electricity, gas, or water without the authorization of the utility company (PC 598(a)(5) & (6)).


Example: Bob runs an illegal marijuana grow in his barn. Bob needs lots of water and electricity to support his grow, but he does not want to pay for the extra utility cost. Therefore, Bob diverts the public utilities by tampering with the public electrical and water lines without the authorization or knowledge of the public utilities. Result: Bob is guilty of two counts of PC 498(d) [One count each for the theft of the electricity and the water].


Note: A person or company’s utility that has been disconnected cannot be reconnected without authorization from the utility (PC 498(a)(7) Abbrev.).


PC 498(b) Law


Per penal code 498(b), “a person who, with intent to obtain for himself, utility services without paying the full lawful charge therefor, or with intent to enable another person to do so, or with intent to deprive any utility of any part of the full lawful charge for utility services it provides, commits, authorizes, solicits, aids, or abets any of the following shall be guilty of theft of utility services (PC 498(b) Abbrev.)).


Diverts or causes to be diverted utility services, by any means (PC 498(b)(1)).


Prevents any utility meter, or other device used in determining the charge for utility services, from accurately performing its measuring function by tampering or by any other means (PC 498(b)(2)).


Tampers with any property owned by or used by the utility to provide utility services (PC 498(b)(3)).


Makes or causes to be made any connection with or reconnection with property owned or used by the utility to provide utility services without the authorization or consent of the utility (PC 498(b)(4)).


Uses or receives the direct benefit of all or a portion of utility services with knowledge or reason to believe that the diversion, tampering, or unauthorized connection existed at the time of that use, or that the use or receipt was otherwise without the authorization or consent of the utility (PC 498(b)(5)).


Example: Sarah tampers with her gas meter to make the gas meter indicate less gas used than the amount of gas that was consumed by her. Result: Sarah is guilty of theft of utility services.


Note: Cable is not usually classified as a "utility." When cable television service is stolen, the crime is usually filed under Theft of Cable, or PC 593(d).


Classification of Crime


Theft of utility services is classified as either a misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony, depending on several factors.

Misdemeanor PC 498(b): Theft of utility service under $950 is usually classified as a misdemeanor, with a punishment of up to one year in the county jail upon conviction.


Felony PC 498(d): Theft of utility service, where the amount of loss to the utility company is $950, or more, or where the defendant has previously been convicted of theft of services, is classified as a misdemeanor, or alternatively as a felony.


Whether PC 498(d) is charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony depends on several factors, including the level of sophistication used by the defendant in the commission of the crime, the terms of any negotiated settlement between the defendant and the district attorney, the amount of loss (above $950), the remorse shown, if any, by the defendant, the reason for the theft, and more.


PC 498 Punishment


As previously stated, theft of utility services is usually charged as a misdemeanor, unless the defendant has a prior criminal history for theft of utility services, or the loss to the utility company is more than $950 (More than $400 prior to 2021).


Felony PC 498(d): When the district attorney charges felony theft of utility services (PC498(d)-F)), the defendant may face up to three years in the county jail upon conviction. A probation sentence, with or without a jail commitment, might be possible after a felony PC 498(d) conviction (See Below).


Note: A conviction for felony theft of utility services will lead to either a probation sentence (See “Probation Sentence”), a low-term jail sentence of sixteen months, a mid-term jail sentence of two years, or a “high-term” jail sentence of three years, depending on several factors present in the case, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the amount of loss to the utility company, the level of sophistication used to commit the offense, and more.


Misdemeanor PC 498(b): When the district attorney charges misdemeanor theft of utility services (PC498(b)-M)), the defendant may face up to one year in the county jail. A probation sentence, with or without a jail commitment, might be possible after a misdemeanor PC 498(b) conviction (See Below).


Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision by the court or a felony probation officer. A probation sentence is allowed in both misdemeanor and felony PC 498 cases, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed.


Whether the defendant is granted a probation sentence, as opposed to a jail sentence, after a conviction for either PC 498(b) [Misdemeanor Theft of Utility Services], or PC 498(d) [Felony Theft of Utility Services], depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.


Note: The grant of a probation sentence, as opposed to a jail sentence, depends on the facts of the case, such as the defendant’s criminal history, the disposition of any negotiated plea bargain between the district attorney and the defendant, the amount of loss to the utility company, the level of sophistication used in the offense, the remorse shown by the defendant, if any, and the reason for the defendant’s theft of the utility service.


Also, a probation sentence after a conviction for misdemeanor PC 498(b) is monitored by the court and the terms of probation usually include refraining from further criminal conduct, repayment of the loss to the utility company (restitution), and more.


Felony probation after a PC 498(d) conviction is monitored by a felony probation officer (i.e., “formal probation”), and the terms of felony probation are usually more severe than the terms associated with misdemeanor probation sentences. For more information, see Felony v. Misdemeanor Probation.


PC 1170(h) Sentencing: Any incarceration related to a conviction of theft of utility services is served in a county jail, as opposed to a state prison. This is true for both misdemeanor and felony convictions of PC 498. In addition, a felony jail sentence may be split (served partially out of custody on work release), or suspended (not served pending the fulfillment of certain conditions). For more information, see PC 1170(h) Sentencing.


Work Release Sentence: With misdemeanor PC 498 convictions, a “jail” sentence may sometimes be served alternatively on work release or house arrest, as opposed to actual incarceration in a county jail. This is true whether the defendant is sentenced to probation with a jail term as a condition of probation or sentenced without probation.


In felony PC 498(d) cases, the judge may sentence the defendant to work release if the amount of work release is low. In other words, the defendant is not likely to get a sixteen-month work release sentence because it would take years for the defendant to work through that work release sentence.


Therefore, in a felony case, the defendant will either be directed to serve his time in a county jail as a condition of probation, or the defendant will be sentenced straight to jail without probation.


Restitution: Regardless of whether the defendant is convicted of misdemeanor or felony PC 498 charges, and regardless of whether the defendant is sentenced to jail or probation, after a conviction for theft of utility services, the defendant will be ordered to repay what he stole from the utility company. This is known as restitution.


Crime Involving Moral Turpitude: Theft crimes, including stealing water, gas, or electricity, are classified as crimes involving moral turpitude, or CIMT. CIMT are crimes that involve deceit or are otherwise considered immoral. CIMT, including PC 498 convictions, carry direct and indirect penalties above and beyond the criminal court penalties (i.e., restitution, jail, fines, etc.,).


These direct and indirect penalties include immigration consequences, professional licensing consequences, military services consequences and more. For more information, see Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.


Additional Penalties: In addition to the penalties listed above, a conviction for stealing electricity, water, or gas, can lead to firearm possession prohibition (felony PC 498(d) cases), court fines, criminal protective orders, loss of scholarship opportunities, civil lawsuits, and more.


Note: Felony PC 498(d) is not classified as a serious or violent offense as those terms are described in the penal code as PC 1192.7 and 667.5, respectively. As such, a conviction for felony PC 498(d) is not a “strike” offense listed under California’s Three Strikes Sentencing Law.


PC 498 Defenses


Common defenses against a charge of theft of utility services include statute of limitations (three years for PC 498(d) and one year for PC 498(b)), coerced confession, illegal search and seizure of defendant’s property, failure to Mirandize defendant before questioning by law enforcement, emergency (temporary necessity), insufficient evidence to prove the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt, and more.


Note: It is not a defense to a PC 498 crime that the defendant was unable to benefit from his attempt to steal utility services. Also, receiving stolen utilities may be charged as receipt of stolen property when there is evidence that the defendant did not steal the utility, but he nevertheless knew of an illegal utility hookup and benefited from the illegal utility hookup.


Post-Conviction Relief: After a conviction for the crime of theft of utility services, the defendant might have several post-conviction remedies depending on the circumstances, including withdraw of a guilty plea (PC 1018), modify a probation sentence (PC 1203.3), expunge the conviction (PC 1203.4), appeal the conviction, and more.


For further information on the crime of theft of utility services, or penal code 498 law, contact our California criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation.


Our team of successful criminal defense lawyers, including winning trial lawyers, represents defendants charged with all felony and misdemeanor theft crimes in the Inland Empire, including the cities and court of Redlands, Riverside, Joshua Tree, Yucaipa, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Victorville, Ontario, Victorville, and more.


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PC 498 Theft of Utility Services (Theft of Electricity, Gas, or Water): Law, Penalties, & Defense

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