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Do You Go to Jail for Stealing a Package?

packages on doorstep
Do You Go to Jail for Stealing a Package?

Porch Piracy Is a Crime: What You Need to Know

California is reopening slowly, but surely.

What does this mean for people who order online and get their items delivered? For starters, online shopping and delivery rates have peaked at a record level during the pandemic due to stay-at-home orders. Now that these rules are lifted and businesses are reopening, people will be away from their homes more often. However, residents will most likely continue ordering online for items such as medications, groceries, household goods, technology, and more. Even as life returns to normal, these shopping habits probably won’t change.

As such, law enforcement officials are warning of the potential increase in porch piracy. Porch pirates are people who steal packages and other mail from people’s doorsteps and mailboxes. Since people will be out of their homes more as they return to work and school, the police are predicting mail theft rates to increase. Like we said before, online shopping and delivery rates may remain high post-pandemic, but residents are certainly going to be outside their homes more.

Mail Theft Punishment

In California, mail theft is a public offense punishable by up to 1 year in county jail and a fine to be determined by the court judge. You may be required to pay victim restitution in an amount equal to or higher than the value of the stolen items, as well.

The Police Are Cracking Down on Porch Pirates

Police officers in California tend to support legislation that aims to reduce crime, as long as such legislation doesn’t negatively impact law enforcement budgets and operations. That being said, officers have shown widespread support for bills that aim to reduce porch piracy.

In February of 2021, Senate Bill 358 proposed enhancing criminal charges for porch pirates who have 2 or more convictions for misdemeanor package theft within a 3-year period. As we said before, stealing a package is a misdemeanor punishable by up 1 one year in jail, but if SB 358 passed, stealing a package would have been a felony punishable by longer incarceration.

However, SB 358 did NOT pass into law, but we bring this to your attention because the California State Sheriffs’ Association supported a similar bill that was introduced in 2020 by the same Senator who proposed SB 358, Sen. Brian Jones, R-Santee.

The Sheriffs’ Association said in a statement, “Increasingly, criminals have been stealing packages delivered at the doorsteps of homes. Because these package contents are often valued under the $950 grand theft threshold or the offender may not actually enter the dwelling to complete the act, individuals engaging in this criminal activity are generally not subject to significant punishment that could deter them from engaging in this activity.”

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposed the 2020 bill, which was similar to SB 358, stating that it is already a crime to steal a package off a porch. “Indeed, depending on the circumstances, a person could be convicted of trespassing; attempted grand theft; attempted petty theft; or attempted receipt of stolen property. If the person actually takes the package, they can be convicted of a slew of other crimes, including grand theft; petty theft; and mail theft,” the ACLU said.

How Common Is Mail Theft?

Homeowners throughout California have experienced an uptick in mail theft incidents, either personally or in their communities. Going back to the early stages of the pandemic, a survey from by LendingTree revealed that 18% of Americans have experienced package theft between March and June of 2020, estimating these short-term thefts are part of a larger problem that consumers face in a normal year. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 1 in 5 Americans reported being victims of porch piracy amid the coronavirus crisis with 18% having had a package or delivery stolen since March. 54% of consumers reported multiple package thefts in the past 12 months. And 33% knew someone who's had a package stolen during the quarantine.
  • Americans lost an average of $106 to porch piracy, with respondents reporting losses as high as $4,800 from a single package. About 30% of package theft victims did not get all of their money back, and less than half of victims said the thief was caught.
  • During the pandemic, Gen Xers and Millennials accounted for more than 42% of package thefts, and 64% of incidents since last year. However, Americans 75 years and older lost the most money to porch piracy – an average of $210 in the past 12 months.
  • 40% of package thefts happened to residents of apartment buildings. Residents of duplex homes were also likely to experience theft: more than one-quarter of the package thefts during the pandemic happened to residents of duplex homes.
  • 57% of stolen packages were delivered by Amazon. Groceries delivered by services like HelloFresh and Instacart made up 14% of stolen packages, but grocery package thefts decreased during the pandemic, despite the increase in the use of these services.
  • Despite the increase in package theft, 33% of consumers have taken no action to prevent package thefts within the past year. About 35% of all residents who did take precautions opted to receive tracking notifications – the most common preventative measure – while 20% installed doorbell cameras. Other measures, like requiring signatures upon delivery, and purchasing package delivery insurance, were not so common.
  • According to Andrew Hurst, a research analyst at, "The quarantine has become the perfect opportunity for porch pirates, with home delivery orders increasing by nearly 40% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic." He adds, "It's worrying that a significant number of Americans are not taking the appropriate measures to protect themselves against future thefts."

With these statistics in mind, it comes as no surprise that California sheriffs are cracking down on porch pirates, especially as more people leave their homes and return to normalcy. Unfortunately, homeowners tend to misidentify suspected porch pirates because they only base their police reports based on what they see on their doorbell or home security cameras. Frankly, these security cameras are not of the highest or clearest quality, making it easy to mistakenly accuse someone of mail theft.

If you were charged for mail theft, explore your legal defense options today. Whether or not you were falsely accused, you can count on our experienced defense attorney to defend your freedom and negotiate for the best possible outcome on your behalf.

Schedule your consultation online or at (510) 907-6600!