Caught Stealing Packages this Holiday Season? Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney shares Package Theft Consequences and what to do if arrested for holiday theft
Did you know that South Florida is one of the worst areas for porch pirates during the holiday season? The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area is ranked as THIRD worst metro area as it has the third-highest number nationwide for packages stolen between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. More widely speaking, South Florida also has the third-hieghesy larceny-theft rate as well - in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area the larceny rate is 23.6 per 1,000 people. Salt Lake City has the highest rate (at 32.6 per 1,000).
It's the holiday season, and people have started to do their annual shopping for gifts and presents for their friends and families. In today’s age of technology, people have turned to the easiest way of having items delivered straight to their doors: online shopping, 2 day Amazon shipping, shopping small online and more. The threat of online shopping, however, is that your gifts and purchases might be left in packages for many hours from delivery until you're home from work to bring the packages home.
Florida Detectives are warning that COVID-19 especially is leading to a spike in Holiday Package theft, according to ABC. The warning largely has to do with the already high package theft occurrence in Florida; but also due to more and more people shopping online due to the Coronavirus Pandemic to both avoid stores and to send gifts directly to loved ones they won't gather with this holiday season. Detectives say "Porch Pirates" are taking advantage of this online-shopping shift.
Online shopping allows the customer to never leave the comfort of their home, expecting their purchase to show up at the doorstep a few days later. However, companies like UPS, USPS, FEDEX, and Amazon, who often predict to deliver 800 million packages during December, may end up delivering one’s package while they are not home, putting it at risk of being stolen. Depending on the item, a stolen package could result in either a misdemeanor or felony theft charge and a jail or prison sentence in Florida, along with other consequences such as fines and restitution.
Stealing from a person's mailbox? That's immediately a federal crime - no matter the value of the item taken. Being convicted of a federal crime for stealing holiday packages from a mailbox could lead to time in federal prison, as well as a harsher prison or probation sentencing and punishment in Florida and nationwide.
How People Get Caught for Package Theft in South Florida
Many South Florida homes are equipped with video doorbells (such as a Google Nest Hello, or a Ring Doorbell), and many homes even have full on video surveillance systems. These video devices record everything happening outside of homes.
This lead to a market of home security to catch “Porch Pirates” in the act. Companies like Ring and Nest Hello have 24/7 footage of who is coming, going, and dropping off packages at a person’s front door. Even if the home that is stolen from doesn't have a video device, chances are a neighbor does and there still may be footage enough to place you at the scene of the crime at the right time and serve as evidence against you in court if you're charged with stealing holiday packages.
These companies also send notifications to their owners whenever activity is detected near the doorbell. People will often get notices in real time such as "looks like a package was delivered" or "Your camera doesn't recognize someone." If the video catches a person stealing packages that were delivered to their home, the owner of the doorbell can send the video to the police, resulting in the person’s arrest.
What to do if Caught Stealing Holiday Packages in South Florida (or anywhere)
If you're caught in the act of stealing holiday packages, you should always be calm and polite to the police. You have the right not to say anything to them, and you should not feel pressured into admitting guilt. You have a right to remain silent (known as your Miranda Rights), and you can politely tell officers that you're invoking your right to remain silent and don't want to answer any questions without an attorney present.
Most importantly, you should hire a trained Criminal Defense Attorney skilled in theft defense in Florida, like Rossen Law Firm, to help represent your case.
The scary thing about package theft, is you might not have any idea what the item inside is valued at. If the item is worth more than $750, you're facing felony charges. It's not the act of stealing holiday packages in Florida that determines the consequences, but the value of the item inside that determines the level of crime you're charged with.
For example, say you steal a package from someone's front door and inside is a child's toy, valued at less than $100 - you're likely looking at up to 60 days in jail and are facing a second-degree misdemeanor in Florida. If the package you steal, for example, has a brand new iPhone in it - valued at more than $750 - you're now facing a Grand Theft charge and will be charged with some form of a felony. This is a huge difference. With package theft, you might not have any idea how much prison time you could face until the package is opened.
Package Theft Crimes and Potential Criminal Theft Charges for Stealing Someone’s Package in Florida
According to Florida Statutes, theft is defined as intentionally obtaining the property of another person. This would include walking up to someone else’s home and taking (stealing) a package from their front door. In Fort Lauderdale, people convicted of theft may receive sentences of up to 1 year in jail for a Florida Misdemeanor Petit Theft charge and a possible prison sentence (even up t0 30 years in prison, depending on the value of the item stolen) for Felony Grand Theft in Florida.
Grand Theft is also defined as the intentional obtaining of another person’s property, but the property must be worth more than $750 (under $750 is a Petit Theft Charge in Florida). This change in charges would occur if the package stolen was valued at a high price. In Fort Lauderdale, people convicted of grand theft may receive prison sentences of 5 to 30 years in state prison - along with other grand theft consequences - depending on the value of the package.
Petit Theft is defined as intentionally obtaining another person’s property that is worth less than $750. This normally includes shoplifting and smaller items that are stolen. In Fort Lauderdale, people convicted of petit theft may result in 60 days in jail up to 1 year in jail, depending on the value of the item that is stolen.
Burglary is defined as entering a dwelling with the intent to commit an offense. This differs from theft and grand theft because now a person is actually inside of another’s home, rather than just outside on their front door. In Fort Lauderdale, penalties for burglary carry severe penalties and consequences can range from 5 years to LIFE in prison.
Federal Charges May Apply for package theft in Florida:
Theft of U.S. Mail can qualify as a federal offense. This can result in a federal prison sentence of up to 5 years and a fine up to $250,000.00.
If the prosecution knows who the owner of the items is, they are able to prove value by reaching out to the owner and determine worth. The prosecution can also reach out to stores or companies if they are the owner or manufacturer of the item. If the prosecution cannot determine the proof of value for an item, a judge may hold a restitution hearing to assign an appropriate value. If the stolen item is brand new, the person who stole it is likely liable for the full, market price of the item. If someone ordered a used or refurbished product, then prosecutors need to determine the fair-market value of the item you stole to determine the level of crime you'll be charged with in Florida.
Legal Defenses in Florida to Crimes Involving Stealing Packages Intent
For both theft and burglary cases, we rely on proving the intent of our client. If a client, in good faith, did not mean to steal the package, we can use the fact that they forgot they put the package in their cart or mistakenly left the store. We also rely on proving value of items in a package. If a client had no idea of how much an item was worth when it was stolen, then they had no intent of stealing something of that much worth or value - this can be used as an element of the defense to a Florida package theft crime.
There are many different defenses that we use to defend Petit Theft charges. We use a mistaken identity or accusations claim, as well as poor video quality that makes it unclear of who is stealing the package. Also, leaving the store for a different reason than to steal, like to retrieve a stolen wallet or in case of an emergency, can be used to help prove innocence in court.
Similarly, there are many defenses that we use during theft charges and burglary cases. Sometimes a client was given permission to be on someone else’s property, and therefore was not essentially breaking and entering. We also use the fact that burglary must be committed within a dwelling or home, and not an open space that is not considered a structure.
How Rossen Law Firm Wins Package Theft Cases in Florida
Man Unknowingly Bought Stolen Property and Charged with Grand Theft & Dealing in Stolen Property in Florida - Charges dropped
One day, Andrew was at the gas station and someone was selling Babolat tennis rackets for much less than what you would pay for them in-store. He bought them, and decided to sell them to a pawn shop to make some extra money. Turns out the tennis rackets were stolen, and because you get fingerprinted when you sell something to a pawn shop - police charged Andrew for the crime of stealing the rackets and he faced dealing with stolen property criminal charges in Florida.
He was arrested and was looking at a possible max of 20 years in prison. We fought to get Andrew into the diversion program. He paid restitution and the charges against him were dropped. Learn more here.
Woman’s Florida Petit Theft Charge Dropped and Record Expunged - Charges dropped
Sasha was at a Walmart and pretended to return a phone case at customer service with a receipt from the previous day. She got $60 and walked out of the store when a security guard stopped her after catching her on video. Sasha was then arrested and charged with Petit Theft in Florida. Sasha knew that she made a dumb mistake in stealing the phone case, and was looking for help to stop rationalizing her decision. She is a small business owner and felt extreme guilt over her few moments of indiscretion. She didn’t want to be labeled a “criminal” or “thief.” Not only did we fight for her during the case, but we were able to find her a therapist that helped put Sasha on a better path. We were able to enroll Sasha in a misdemeanor diversion program, where she completed it perfectly. We were able to get Sasha’s charges dropped and her record expunged. Learn more here.
Travis had just changed prescription medications, and he blacked out after mixing them with alcohol while at his mom's condo.
In his altered, unaware state - he left her unit and ended up ripping a phone off the wall, smashing the window of a Honda Accord, and then sitting in it with the phone doing nothing. During this time, residents at the condo building told the security guard what Travis was doing and called police.
The security guard located Travis inside the car and asked him to step out of the vehicle, which he did. Another resident attempted to help the security guard and ended up punching Travis in the face. Travis ran away. He was trying to go back to his mother's apartment, but was on the wrong floor of the right building. He was banging on the door (thinking his mother was inside) and scared the couple that lived in that unit. When the police officer arrived he sprayed Travis in the face with his OC spray, wrestled him onto the ground and arrested him for burglary for trying to enter a condo unit that wasn't his. This was a case that got out of hand. Yes: Travis technically committed trespass, vandalism, and resisting arrest, but he definitely did not commit burglary. He didn't steal anything from the car.
We talked to the prosecutors, showed them there was no evidence of burglary, and convinced them that they wouldn't be able to prove that there was. We plead to a misdemeanor crime instead of the felony he was charged with, and got him misdemeanor probation. Travis took a medical leave of absence from college, and began seeing a therapist to help him treat his depression. Learn more here.
Reach out Today…
If you or someone you know are facing criminal charges after stealing a holiday package in South Florida, you should consider hiring a trained Criminal Defense Attorney with a proven track record. Rossen Law Firm provides FREE strategy sessions where we listen to your story and all the details of a case, and then we let you know how we would work to defend you and protect your future from your Florida criminal charges.
Call today for more information, with questions, or to schedule a free consultation: