In past generations, people went to malls and department stores to shop for holiday gifts. You may remember coming home with a trunkful of bags and boxes and secreting them into the house to wrap and hide until the holiday arrived.
More commonly these days, however, people do their shopping online. It is more convenient, offers more choices and is often cheaper than fighting the crowds for in-store savings. The drawback is that once the packages arrive, delivery people often leave them on the front porch for anyone to see.
At this time of year, theft from porches is a frequent occurrence. When a reporter picks up the stories, he or she often spins them with details about disappointed children or hard-working parents. If your picture is the one captured in the home security video, you may be vilified before you even have the chance to defend yourself.
Fines and jail time are possible
Whether you were simply curious about the contents of one or two boxes, or part of an organized ring of alleged thieves, you should be aware of the consequences for taking packages from other people's porches:
- If the parcel was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, it is a federal crime. A conviction means you are facing a fine and up to a year in prison if the contents of the delivery was worth less than $1,000
- If the parcel delivered by the USPS was valued at more than $1,000, your potential fine is higher, and the length of time you may be sentenced after a conviction is up to three years.
- If the package was delivered by a non-governmental entity (such as FedEx or UPS), the fine for a conviction ranges from a $500 to $10,000, depending on the value of the property.
- In addition to a fine, you may also face between five and 99 years in prison if convicted of stealing a package delivered by a non-governmental entity.
Of course, if you happen to be an employee of the government or in a position of trust regarding the theft victim, the penalties may be different. The particular circumstances of your situation may greatly influence the penalties that are levied if you are convicted.
A strong defense is important
Hiring an attorney to defend you is a good decision, no matter the circumstances of your case. Your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal, especially if a video camera captured your image or if someone claims to have witnessed you taking the package.
Your attorney will review the evidence and work to refute it with a goal of sparing you fines or time in jail. That may be the best gift you receive this holiday.