In this day and age, with most gas stations requiring to prepay or pay with a credit card at the pump, you may assume that motor fuel theft simply doesn’t have the opportunity to happen. However, that is not the case.
New Hope, Minnesota reported over 60 gas drive-offs in one year from local gas stations. Under Minnesota state law, a person can be charged criminally for gas drive-offs, but the New Hope Police Department decided civil penalties are more fitting.
If you are considering getting gas and not paying for it, you may want to think again. While civil charges for theft may not seem intimidating, they certainly can have a big impact on your life.
Here’s what you need to know about motor fuel theft in Minnesota as well as the civil and criminal penalties you can face.
What is Motor Fuel Theft?
In Minnesota, if you intentionally take motor fuel without the consent of the retailer and it is your intent to permanently deprive them of the fuel without paying for what was dispensed into your vehicle, then you are committing motor fuel theft.
For criminal charges, it must be shown that the driver drove from the retailer’s premises without paying for the fuel (or not paying enough) and that they acted intentionally in doing so.
However, there is a time period permitted for civil penalties to run their course before law enforcement becomes involved in the situation. It includes these two scenarios:
- A notice of nonpayment is received, and the retailer is paid within 30 days of the incident or
- There is a notice made in writing disputing the claim that the owner of the vehicle received the notice if it can be shown the license plate of the vehicle was stolen prior to the theft of the fuel
Traditionally, the criminal penalty, if you are found guilty of a theft of fuel charge, is up to five years in prison and fines of $10,000. Today, however, you may face civil penalties first.
Civil Penalties for Motor Fuel Theft
The Minnesota State Legislature made it possible in 2012 for motor vehicle fuel drive-offs to be subject to civil penalties before they are subject to criminal penalties.
The law allows for trade associations acting on behalf of retailers and member organizations to serve notice to perpetrators and collect payments for the fuel. The association contacts the person who drove off for a fee and gives them 30 days to reply to the notice and for payment to be collected. The money then goes to the retailer.
This process has been streamlined and allows retailers to recoup their money from drive-offs without investing too much of their own time and energy. This makes it a clear win for retailers and serves as a reminder to those who drive off without payment that they can be found and will be expected to pay what they owe.
What the new process really amounts to is a win for everyone impacted in the situation. It gives those that drive off time to pay what they owe without having it show up on their criminal record, it allows gas stations to recover costs without utilizing city resources, and it frees up law enforcement to focus on more important criminal matters.
If you are in a tight spot and need gas but don’t have money, you may be tempted to drive off without payment. However, it’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.
You should be expected to be contacted for payment promptly and, if you don’t pay, be subject to criminal prosecution. If you have questions about your personal situation involving a drive off, feel free to reach out!
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is an AV-Preeminent rated criminal and DWI defense attorney based in Minneapolis who is known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and named a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law by the Minnesota Bar Association. Mr. Keyers is Lead Counsel rated, and he has received recognition for his criminal law work from Avvo, Expertise, Super Lawyers, The National Trial Lawyers, and more.