Porch Pirates Now Face Felony Charges in Texas
Beginning September 1, 2019, anyone convicted for stealing mail in Texas could face felony charges. Partly due to the rise of online shopping, Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 37 to prevent “porch pirates” from stealing mail left out in the open. The bill defines mail as “a letter, postal card, package, bag, or other sealed article,” which is addressed to a specific individual and was either dropped off by a common carrier or left for pickup. While mail theft is a felony under federal law, it has only been punishable as a misdemeanor under Texas state law.
House Bill 37
House Bill 37 will amend Chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code to create the criminal offense of mail theft. In Texas, different kinds of theft have been consolidated into one offense; however, this bill seeks to deter individuals from stealing mail belonging to others.
According to the bill, the number of victims will determine whether the theft constitutes a felony. If one steals mail from less than ten addresses, it is a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to four thousand dollars. If one steals mail from more than ten but fewer than thirty addresses, it is a state jail felony which is punishable by a sentence of 180 days to two years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If one steals mail from thirty addresses or more, it is a third-degree felony that is punishable by a sentence of not less than two years or more than ten years.
If it can be established that one stole mail to fraudulently use or possess the identifying information of another under section 32.51 of the Texas Penal Code, stealing mail from ten or fewer addresses will result in a state jail felony. Stealing mail from more than ten but fewer than twenty addresses will result in a third-degree felony. If mail is stolen from at least twenty but fewer than fifty addresses, one has committed a second-degree felony which is punishable by a sentence of not less than two years or more than twenty years. Lastly, individuals accused of stealing mail from more than fifty addresses will face a first-degree felony charge, which is punishable by a sentence of not less than five years or more than 99 years. Any of these charges also include the possibility of a fine of up to ten thousand dollars.
Criticism surrounding the bill focus on how crime is measured. They believe that the punishments should be based on the value of each package, not the number of victims. Only time will tell the success of this bill, but Texans should find comfort in knowing the legislature is taking this crime seriously.
Protecting Yourself Against Porch Pirates
A survey conducted during the 2018 holiday season revealed that more than 25 million Americans had packages stolen from their homes. Below is a list of ways to protect your property when you know you are going to receive a package:
- Arranging for a specific drop off or pick up time
- Deposit outgoing mail close to pick up time
- Do not allow your mail to accumulate
- File a change of address with common carriers if you move
- Install security cameras
- Inquire about overdue mail
- Request signature confirmation
- Sign up for USPS Informed Delivery service.
Hopefully, the new law will make porch pirates think twice about stealing packages. However, you would be wise to assume that there will still be those who do not heed the law and to protect yourself accordingly.