The Legal Repercussions of Stealing Packages and Christmas Decorations
With the deluge of brown paper packages and glimmering Christmas decorations gracing front porches in December, there was also an uptick in something less cheerful: stealing property off porches. In this day and age, though, some of these thieves are getting caught on home security cameras. While some of these homeowners are resorting to vigilante justice—planting dung-filled packages on their porches, for instance—what are the legal options for homeowners who obtain footage of neighbors sneaking off with the Christmas wreath or holiday gifts?
Decorations: Stealing decorations tends to fall under state rather than federal law. Grinches can be charged with larceny, suspicion of theft, petit theft, petty theft, trespassing, receiving stolen property, and more depending on the state. Because decorations are usually worth hundreds and not thousands of dollars, these offenses are nearly always misdemeanors.
Packages: Stealing packages is much more legally serious than making off with the neighbor’s Christmas lights. Mail theft is a federal offense punishable by fines and up to five years behind bars. However, many criminals are charged with state misdemeanors instead of the federal felony, including petit theft and burglary (as in the case of a Florida man) or possessing stolen property (as in the case of a Virginia resident).
Whether it’s decorations or packages that go missing from your porch, surveillance footage can be used as evidence to catch the thief. In some cases, though, homeowners take matters into their own hands—sometimes after being told erroneously by law enforcement that there’s nothing that can be done from a legal perspective.
Some of these people post surveillance videos online to publicly shame the crook, and at least in some cases, this has resulted in the property being returned. Others actually recognize the bandit as a neighbor and confront them in person. Perhaps no one has gone quite as far as this guy, who designed a package that distributes glitter and “fart spray” and contains a GPS tracker and a video camera to film the perpetrator’s alarmed reaction.
If you find yourself a victim of theft, though, the best and safest course of action is to contact law enforcement with any evidence you may have. Doing so can prevent potentially dangerous confrontations and stop thieves from robbing more houses. Whether you choose to follow up your legal actions with a glitter-filled box planted on your porch is entirely up to you.
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