In July of 2014, a homeless woman in Portland, Oregon was charged with third-degree theft after plugging her phone charger into an outdoor outlet on a sidewalk planter in the city’s Old Town district.
Though such cases are rare, people are occasionally charged with theft for plugging electronic devices into private outlets. Enforcing this obscure misdemeanor offense is a considerable waste of time and resources, but it doesn’t stop it from happening.
Street Roots News reports the woman’s apparent theft was reported by Portland Patrol Inc. Two police officers followed up on the report, and the woman and a homeless co-defendant, also caught charging his phone in the planter’s outlet, were ordered to appear in court for the Class C offense.
According to Street Roots:
“Jackie,” (who did not want her real name used), says she was shocked when four uniformed officers all agreed her actions warranted not only their response, but also charges and a court summons.
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.
To put this in perspective, it costs roughly 25 cents a year to charge the average mobile phone. The cost incurred from this woman’s actions was likely a fraction of a cent. Certain attorneys see cases like these more often than you might guess.
“It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s just insane,” said public defender Jane Fox. “The (case) that I had was somebody charging their phone by the Greyhound bus station. Don’t you have a reasonable expectation that an outlet near the bus station would be OK?”