Can Sneaking Into Movies Get You Arrested?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on June 07, 2013 9:45 AM

With summer vacation starting, many kids (and some frugal adults) will inevitably try their luck at sneaking into this summer's blockbuster movies.

But amid all the stealthy backdoor maneuvers and fake-butter-flavored fibs lies the real question of whether you can be charged with a crime for theater-hopping.

Here are three common ways moviegoers sneak into their ill-gotten summer flicks, and the potential criminal ramifications:

1. Lying to the Ticket-Taker.

Gaining entry to the movie theater without paying and lying to the ticket-taker means that you are in effect stealing the theater's services, which is technically larceny.

Larceny generally refers to the stealing of property. But in many states, including Pennsylvania, stealing services is illegal may even result in jail time.

Telling the ticket-tearer that you just need to quickly use the restroom -- and then watching all of "Iron Man 3" -- is legally similar to dining and dashing, and both of them are illegal theft.

2. Theater-Hopping.

A movie ticket is in essence a legal license to be at the theater for the viewing of a particular movie. This license is what keeps the law from considering you a trespasser.

So if you buy a ticket for one movie and then see another (e.g., buying a ticket for "Epic" and instead seeing "Fast and Furious 6"), you may not be stealing any money from the theater, but you are violating their consent and in doing so, you are trespassing.

In most states, like Texas, criminal trespass is a misdemeanor and it is possible to face jail time for hopping movies.

3. Sneaking in the Backdoor.

Most theaters have a fire exit door that opens to the parking lot, which many ne'er-do-wells have used to sneak into a theater without paying.

Including the scenarios above, when you trespass into a movie theater, either by fraud or by stealth, and intend to steal services, you are technically committing burglary in many jurisdictions. (Burglary is often defined as entering a building with the intent to commit a crime.)

A ticket might have only cost $10, which makes a criminal conviction for sneaking into a theater to see a movie a pretty bad investment.

If you insist on being naughty, try smuggling in some home-popped popcorn or store-bought Sour Patch Kids into the theater. It may still be against theater policy, but at least it isn't criminal.

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