guy “steals” 5 cents of electricity, is arrested

Guy is arrested for charging his car for 20 minutes at a school.

A man in an Atlanta suburb was confronted by a police officer for plugging his electric car into an outside outlet at a school. Ten days later, he was arrested at home and charged with theft for taking about 5 cents worth of electricity “without consent.”

It seems silly to consider this a crime, under the circumstances, though I understand it can be argued both ways (imagine if there was a spike in energy prices and everyone started charging their cars in available power outlets). Still, what surprises me is that the man was arrested more than a week later. Not given a citation and asked to appear in court to argue his case, but arrested. Normally, we citizens lose custody of our body when we represent a public threat and police have no other reasonable option. It’s hard to imagine the guy briefly charging his electric car as representing a danger to the public.

The slippery slope argument in favor of criminalizing this trivial theft notwithstanding, consider the aggregate costs associated with police action investigating the “crime”; subsequent police action performing the arrest, filing paperwork, booking and processing, court and lawyer fees, etc. That adds up to much more than 5 cents, the direct cost of the crime, if a crime even occurred (and I’m of the opinion that, given the circumstances, the man committed a non-crime).

Other scenarios spring to mind, such as picking up a penny off the ground (on any public or private property not owned by you) and then being arrested for theft, for “stealing” a penny without consent of the landowner (or the government, in the case of public property). Is that really the direction we want to go with regard to our law enforcement and judicial system?

As I’ve argued before on this blog, in countries like the US (et al) with falling crime rates and growing (or at least non-declining) law enforcement personnel, smaller and less significant “crimes” will be prosecuted, such that even seemingly innocent actions could brand one a “criminal.”

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