Homeless Woman Charged with ‘Theft of Services’ for Charging Cell Phone

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By Walter Einenkel, Daily Kos

Streetroots news has an interesting and entirely frustrating account of the wasteful criminalization of a homeless woman in Portland.

This past July, a homeless Portland woman was charged with third-degree theft when she plugged her cell phone charger into an outlet on a sidewalk planter box in Old Town. Cases in which people are charged with theft for plugging electronic devices into private outlets are uncommon, but defense attorneys say they’re another example of resources wasted for frivolous offenses.

Portland patrol officers cited her for third degree “theft of services.”

According to Streetroots, it costs about .25 cents a year to power a cell phone. According to Forbes it costs about. 12 cents a year.

Either way, wow.

She was charged with stealing a percentage of a penny from the impoverished taxpayers in Portland. The woman, called “Jackie” in this article for anonymity, was justifiably flabbergasted.

Jackie has never been convicted of a crime. If this charge led to a conviction, it would mean the difference between checking “no” or “yes” to questions about criminal history on a job or housing application. Her attorney, Metropolitan Public Defender Stacy Du Clos, says Jackie’s main concern at the time was how this pending case might hurt her chances of getting a roof over her head – she’s homeless and on several waiting lists for affordable housing units.

Good job, Portland. You’re citing someone, in essence, for shoplifting when they charged their phone in a public place. How does this play out?

Jackie missed her first arraignment. She says she lost her citation, but turned herself in a couple of months later. Records show a bench warrant had been issued, and when she turned herself in she was booked into jail, and then released the same day. She didn’t miss court again.

After that Jackie plead not guilty. The problem with pleading not guilty is that the wheels of reducing fines, trial dates, plea bargain deals, all kick into gear.

The district attorney’s deal in circuit court wasn’t nearly as sweet as the one offered in Community Court. According to Du Clos, it included one year of probation, 20 hours of community service or a $100 fine, and it required that she take a Theft Talk class. Theft Talk, a class aimed at thieves, costs $70. For those who can’t afford it, the price is reduced to no less than $50, which the offender has to pay out of pocket. Jackie, again, entered a plea of “not guilty.”

Luckily, in the end, the DA dropped the charges.

None of this is helping Jackie. None of this is helping the DA. None of this is helping the people of Portland.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Kos