During this holiday season, online shopping and home deliveries are a common occurrence in Florida. The ability to avoid crowded, busy stores to purchase not only holiday gifts but also food and other personal items has evolved from a luxury to almost a necessity. In addition to saving us time, online purchases keep us socially distanced, in keeping with CDC recommendations regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Because of its many benefits, most people forget that the convenience of getting items shipped to our doorsteps comes with a sinister downside: the potential for stolen packages. The term “Porch Pirate” has become a popular phrase this season, and it refers to a person who steals newly delivered packages from another’s home, porch, patio or door. Many of these deliveries are presumably stolen when shipping companies drop them off and no one is home to receive them; other incidents occur even as homeowners are in their own homes. Porch piracy is a growing concern, as it puts people at risk of both victimization and a criminal accusation.
What kinds of charges are associated with Porch Piracy?
There are several criminal charges that come with an accusation of Porch Piracy. Naturally, the most common of these charges are theft-related offenses. The level of a theft charge is generally based on the dollar value of the stolen merchandise or item. However, other enhancements exist for special circumstances, such as the age of the alleged victim, a defendant’s prior record, or type of item allegedly stolen.
Beyond the foreseeable theft charges, porch piracy can lead to more serious allegations – such as Trespass or Burglary – when the allegations involve entering a structure, dwelling, or curtilage of a home.
Perhaps the least anticipated criminal charge arising from porch piracy is that of Assault or Battery. Homeowners may confront suspected thieves, and a verbal or physical alternation may ensue. Depending on who the police determine to be the primary aggressor, either the suspected thief OR the victim can face an assault or battery charge. Homeowner theft victims beware: defense of property is not a foolproof legal defense against an assault or battery charge; you may only use “reasonable force” to defend your property!
Don’t become a victim.
To minimize the risk of falling victim to porch piracy, online buyers should consider installing security cameras or video-enabled doorbells; recording devices not only provide evidence in the event of an incident, but also serve as a deterrent to stealing in the first place.
If possible, buyers should schedule deliveries during daylight hours and at times when they will be home. While porch piracy can occur at any time and irrespective of home occupancy, the presence of witnesses should reduce the chances of victimization.
Other steps that online purchasers can take for protection include electing store pick-up, having items delivered to a less vulnerable location (perhaps an office building), and – if not home – having a friend or family member pick up the package as soon as possible.
There have been accounts of law enforcement and civilians putting together “bait packages” in order to catch porch pirates in the act. From these sting operations, a few points came to light regarding porch piracy:
- Most alleged porch pirates are not wearing disguises.
- These types of incidents often occur near a roadway where packages are visibly seen from the street.
- Most porch pirates act alone; few have get-away drivers.
- The act of porch piracy itself takes less than one minute.
Protect yourself from a criminal accusation.
If being the victim of porch piracy is an unpleasant situation, it is at least equally unsavory to be on the receiving end of the pointed finger. An accusation of theft, burglary or trespass can damage your reputation, job prospects, school prospects, and public record. You may also face jail, hefty fines, and probation.
The common-sense advice for avoiding the label of “porch pirate” is to refrain from suspicious situations altogether. Stay away from homes and don’t touch packages. Sometimes, packages are delivered to the wrong address. Although you may be tempted to help your neighbor by moving the item to the correct house, it is best to leave the item alone and contact the intended recipient or delivery company. If you need to pick up or move a package (perhaps your own item was delivered to the wrong house), do so with the company of a friend or body camera.
For homeowners or passersby witnessing an alleged theft, don’t be the hero. Contact law enforcement immediately and record the incident from a distance to avoid an unjust accusation of assault or battery.
Arrested for Porch Piracy?
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of an arrest or charge related to porch piracy, remain calm and don’t speak with law enforcement. You should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to begin strategizing your defense.
Our Lake Worth law firm serves all of Palm Beach and Martin Counties in the area of criminal defense. Founding Attorney Lourdes Casanova is a former prosecutor for Palm Beach County with thousands of criminal cases under her belt.