Man charged with felony under three-strikes law after police say he underpaid for Mountain Dew

A Pennsylvania man was jailed after he was accused of underpaying for a bottle of Mountain Dew.

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Police said Joseph Sobolewski stopped at a convenience store in east-central Pennsylvania last month.

The store had a promotion where two, 20-oz. Mountain Dew bottles cost $3. He grabbed one bottle, put $2 on the counter of the store and left.

But a single bottle cost $2.29 plus tax, not the expected $1.50, so he actually didn’t overpay as he may have assumed. Police and store workers said he underpaid by 29 cents plus tax for a total of 43 cents, Penn Live reported.

Store employees called police who found Sobolewski and charged him with a felony. He was sent to jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond, facing up to seven years in prison.

The bond was changed seven days later to a $50,000 unsecured bond, according to court documents. State law says an unsecured bond is granted when the defendant signs an “agreement to be liable for a fixed sum of money if he or she fails to appear as required or fails to comply with the conditions of the bail bond. No money or other form of security is deposited.”

Why such a high penalty for shorting a store less than 50 cents?

Sobolewski was being charged under the state’s “three strikes law” for retail theft, Penn Live reported.

He was convicted more than a decade ago for pumping gas without paying.

He also was arrested and sentenced for stealing shoes from a K-Mart. The shoes cost $39.99. He paid $866 in fines and fees and was sentenced to three months in jail for a probation violation.

He and his wife were arrested for putting craft supplies in their backpack at a Hobby Lobby. His bond, in that case, was $2,000 and he’s applying for a state-run diversion program.

Underpaying for the soda is Sobolewski’s fourth charge.

But not all agree with the blanket “three strikes law” since it doesn’t take into account the context of an alleged crime.

“For me, I would get the deterrent factor if someone’s thefts were getting worse or higher in value,” Brandon Flood, director of Pennsylvania’s Board of Parole, told Penn Live. “But the lack of discretion is what bothers me. It’s problematic because it doesn’t factor in the amount.”

There is also an increasing penalty if someone commits retail theft repeatedly.

Pennsylvania law says the first charge — if the item stolen is less than $150 value — is a summary offense. A second is bumped up to a misdemeanor. A third, no matter the value of the item taken, is a third-degree felony. Other third-degree felonies in the state include involuntary manslaughter.

State police spokesperson Megan Ammerman told Penn Live that the troopers did their job. Troopers “cannot decide to not charge someone for a criminal case. Only victims of certain crimes can decline charges. If we are called to an incident involving a crime we follow and enforce the PA Crimes Code.”

You can read the state’s retail theft law,, here.

In 2018, another man was accused of stealing about $30 worth of items at another convenience store, The Sentinel reported. He too faced a three strikes retail theft charge and was sentenced to a year behind bars. He also had to pay $1,300 in fines and costs because the theft — being his third charge — became a felony, despite the low value of the items taken, the newspaper reported.

Two lawmakers then had introduced a bill that would have done away with the felony charge unless the items taken were worth more than $1,000 or involved theft of a motor vehicle or firearm, the Sentinel reported.

The bill, PA House Bill 2098 from the 2017-2018 legislative session, had been referred to the Judiciary Committee where it appears to have stalled. There were no committee votes or floor votes on the bill, according to the legislative record.

Prosecutors will have to show that Sobolewski didn’t pay the full price for the drink intentionally.

Police said the clerk said she followed Sobolewski outside to tell him that he didn’t pay the full price. He told her he did before driving away, Penn Live reported.

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