Sneaking into a movie theater without purchasing a ticket may appear to be an innocuous act. It seems part of the backstory of many aspiring actors, and most of us “wink an eye” at such activities as though everyone has done it occasionally.
But in California, sneaking into a movie theater violates several laws and can carry significant legal penalties, including serious fines and jail time.
When you buy a ticket at a movie theater, you buy a ticket for a particular movie. The ticket you just purchased technically permits you to be on the private property of a movie theater, but this right only applies to the showing of that movie.
Suppose you bought a ticket to watch “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” When it was over, you walked to another theater, sneaking into the next “Elf” showing without buying another ticket.
In that case, you have just violated your rights to be on the movie theater property because you are attending the showing of another movie without the owner's permission.
Generally, trespassing is described as entering and occupying real property or structures without the consent of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession.
Further, suppose you sneak past the box office or enter through the rear exit door without paying for a movie ticket. In that case, you could be charged with violating PC 602 trespassing law.
Trespassing is a California misdemeanor crime with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in county jail. However, serving jail for sneaking into a movie is highly unlikely, and a judge would probably impose only summary probation.
What is Penal Code 602 PC Trespassing?
Under California Penal Code Section 602, trespassing is defined as entering or remaining on someone else's property without explicit consent or permission of the owner or manager.
In the context of a movie theater, if you enter without buying a ticket (for example, by entering through a back door or sliding into an open entry without going to the ticket counter), you are technically in the theater without permission (i.e., a paid ticket).
This means you could potentially be charged with trespassing. This even applies if you bought a ticket for one movie and stayed to catch another. No ticket equals no permission.
The penalties for a trespassing conviction under PC 602 can range from an infraction, punishable by a fine, to a misdemeanor, leading to up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Penal Code 602(m) PC says, “Every person who willfully commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor: Entering and occupying real property or structures of any kind without the consent of the owner, the owner's agent, or the person in lawful possession.”
What is Penal Code 484(a) PC Petty Theft
Under California Penal Code Section 484(a), petty theft occurs when you unlawfully take someone else's property valued at $950 or less. If you sneak into a movie without paying for a ticket, you could be accused of stealing the service provided by the theater.
A conviction for petty theft in California is usually a misdemeanor and can result in up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. However, for first-time offenders or thefts of property valued at $50 or less, the charge may be reduced to an infraction.
What is Penal Code 532 PC Theft by False Pretenses?
Theft by false pretenses, as defined by Penal Code 532 PC, involves knowingly and intentionally deceiving someone with false or fraudulent representation to persuade the person to let you take possession and ownership of their property.
This crime is usually charged in instances where someone uses a ticket fraudulently. For example, if Sam purchases a child's ticket despite being an adult and then uses it to watch a movie, he could be charged with theft by false pretenses for misrepresenting his age to pay a lower price.
Likewise, if Sam buys a ticket for one movie and then sneaks into another theater afterward to catch another movie with the same ticket, he could be charged with this crime.
Theft by false pretenses is technically a wobbler in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount stolen. However, since a movie ticket is a small dollar amount, this crime is almost always charged as a misdemeanor on the level of petty theft when it applies to sneaking into the movies.
What is Penal Code 459 PC Second-Degree Burglary?
Burglary is entering a building or structure intending to commit a felony or theft inside. The burglary of a residence is first-degree burglary, while burglary of other facilities is considered second-degree burglary.
In the context of sneaking into a movie theater, if you enter without paying for a ticket and then watch a movie, it could be classified as second-degree burglary since you entered a commercial facility intending to commit theft (i.e., watching the movie).
Second-degree burglary is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense, your prior criminal history, etc. If charged as a felony (which is rare), you could face a maximum of 3 years in prison.
What is Fraud?
Fraud in California is defined as intentionally deceiving someone for personal gain. In movie hopping, this could apply if false representation is used to gain entry into the theater—for example, using a counterfeit ticket or providing false information to get a discount.
Fraud is rarely used as a criminal charge for sneaking into the movies, but if the circumstances warrant it, the charge is possible—with potential jail or prison time if convicted.
Contact our California criminal defense lawyers for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.