Should Nissan Leaf Driver Have Been Arrested For “Stealing” $.05 Worth Of Electricity From Public Outlet?

An Atlanta-area man admits that he didn’t have permission to charge up his Nissan Leaf outside a local middle school while waiting for his son to finish tennis practice on a Saturday, but he also believes he shouldn’t have been arrested for using about 5 cents worth of electricity from a publicly available outlet.

The man tells Atlanta’s Channel 11 [via Ars Technica] he’d had his Leaf plugged in for about 20 minutes when he was approached by a police officer.

“He said that he was going to charge me with theft by taking because I was taking power, electricity from the school,” recalls the driver.

But rather than ticket the man or arrest him then and there, the officer filed a report. It wasn’t until 11 days later that a pair of deputies showed up at his house to arrest him.

While police say they determined that the man didn’t have permission to charge his vehicle, they also admit they didn’t check with the school to see if it wanted to press charges against the driver.

And one police sergeant says the officer should have arrested the man at the time of the incident, and that it doesn’t matter about the low dollar value of the alleged theft.

“I’m not sure how much electricity he stole,” explains the sergeant. “He broke the law. He stole something that wasn’t his.”

The driver, who spent about 15 hours behind bars before being released, likens his supposed crime to someone being arrested for drinking water out of a tap.

“People charge laptops or cell phones at public outlets all the time, and no one’s ever been arrested for that,” he contends.

Did the police overreact in this incident? We have a feeling that part of the issue here is the lack of public understanding about how much electricity it takes to charge up an electric vehicle. After all, it takes a huge amount of cash to fill a tank with gasoline so it might make sense that charging an EV would also be costly. Thus, the officer may have assumed this man was getting away with stealing significantly more than five cents worth of juice.

We want to know what you think…

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  1. pguyton2 says:

    If he was a local resident, then his taxes were paying for that electricity…

  2. roxi says:

    You need to use your own electricity, or go somewhere that sells electricity. It isn’t free.

  3. OyVey says:

    It’s not the same a drinking from a water fountain, which is placed FOR people to drink from.

    The electric outlet is not commonly used for public consumption.

    “People charge laptops or cell phones at public outlets all the time, and no one’s ever been arrested for that,” he contends.

    What public outlets do people use, without permission?

    • MarthaGaill says:

      You’ve never been somewhere with a dying phone and plugged it in? I’ve seen people do it at doctor’s offices, restaurants, etc. I’ve seen people sitting on the floor at the mall with their phone in a charger.

      I can see where the cops might think he charged up large amounts with his car, but that’s not the case.

  4. AndyTehNerd says:

    They should have given him the option to settle for 2,000% of the original amount stolen. Or, you know, a whole dollar.

  5. CzarChasm says:

    I’m not sure about this one. While what he did is NOT the same as taking water from a public fountain, and it is most definitely the textbook definition of theft by taking, it’s also awfully petty and pointless to be wasting police resources on something like this. You would have thought something along the lines of “hey man, you can’t do that here” would have been more than enough.

  6. C0Y0TY says:

    The police should have consulted the school first. If the school didn’t complain or want to press charges, there’s no violation, and the police themselves can be sued for false arrest.

    • CzarChasm says:

      Yikes, internet lawyering alert. You are so wrong, I really don’t know how you could have been more wrong if you attended a seminar on “how to be wrong”.

      First off, only a DA can press charges, schools cannot, police cannot. Nor does a DA have to get consent from anyone to do so. (except maybe their boss, if they have one)

      Second, all police need to have to arrest is suspicion that there MAY have been a crime. Not that there WAS a crime. Which, by the way there TOTALLY was a crime here. A meaningless crime, but still a crime.

      Oh and please don’t take this personal, I was just having a little fun and trying to be informative. Most people do not know how the law works and tend to throw a lot of stuff out there that just isn’t true. You have no idea how many people get themselves in trouble because of what non-lawyers have told them about the law.

  7. evlpete says:

    I’m surprised it was as high as $0.05 how many hour was he there?

    Remember when a guy was fired for “stealing” 1.8 cents in electricity ?

    http://consumerist.com/2010/09/13/court-rules-man-cant-be-fired-for-stealing-18-cents-of-electricity/

  8. originalread says:

    A tad bit excessive on the wasting of police time and tax payer dollars. Yes, it technically a crime but so is going 1 mph over the speed limit, jaywalking and women can’t cut their hair in Michigan without their husband’s permission.

    If I were this guy, I’d really argue the cell phone / tablet / laptop charging is the same as what he was doing. I can almost guarantee at some point, someone charged another device at that same outlet. If common sense can’t prevail, he could call the cops every single time he sees someone plug in a device anywhere at all. He could even get lucky and catch someone charging something at the same outlet. Call the cops, even if it is a student.

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      Excellent comparison — it was technically illegal, but fairly reasonable for the average person to think it wasn’t. After all, he wasn’t trespassing, he had a valid reason to be there, one that was presumably permitted by the school. So if he used the bathroom, would this officious officer have arrested him for using the school’s water? Contrary to what OyVey said, at a school, the “public” restrooms are generally for students and visitors, by which I mean those who sign in at the office during the regular school day or who have a scheduled function in the building after school hours (PTA meetings, etc). I’ll bet the heat/AC for the building were turned off, just like most office buildings on a Saturday, so I think the officer would have argued that the building was “closed”, even if the principal/superintendent left it open during practice hours.

  9. StevenPierce says:

    When you plug your phone into the outlet while visiting the public library, your are stealing.

    Perfect!