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“Porch Piracy” And Mail Theft Becomes Felony Crimes In Michigan

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The way that people shop has changed greatly in the last several years. The days of going to a brick-and-mortar store have given way to browsing on Amazon and having merchandise delivered directly to your front door. Unfortunately, those packages left on the porch awaiting your arrival fall prey to thieves. Experts estimate that more than 25 million Americans have packages stolen from their doorsteps each year. This activity will only get worse during the holiday season as more and more front porches become piled up with Christmas gifts ripe for the taking. What is being done to address this terrible problem?

Beginning December 16th, 2019, the Mail and Mail Depository Protection Act (Public Act 48 of 2019) went into effect and provided harsher penalties in the State of Michigan for tampering with someone else’s mail or packages. The Michigan Legislature provides as follows:

  • “A person shall not take, hold, conceal, or destroy mail addressed to another person with the intent to defraud any person or deprive the person to whom the mail was addressed of the mail.” MCL 445.33(1).
  1. “Mail” means a letter, postal card, package, bag, or any other article or thing contained therein, or other sealed article addressed to a person. MCL 445.32(a).
  2. “Person” means an individual, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, association, or other legal entity. MCL 445.32(b).
  • A person who violates this section is guilty of a crime punishable as follows:
  1. For a first violation of this law, “the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.” MCL 445.33(2)(a).
  2. If the violation is a second or subsequent violation of this law, “the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.” MCL 445.33(2)(b).
  • “This section applies whether a person whose mail is obtained, or attempted to be obtained, if the person is an individual, in violation of this section is alive or deceased at the time of the violation.” MCL 445.33(3).
  • “This section does not prohibit a person from being charged with, convicted of, or sentenced for any other violation of law committed by that person using mail obtained in violation of this section or any other violation of law committed by that person while violating or attempting to violate this section.” MCL 445.33(4).

For prosecution under this law, it does not matter if the recipient is dead, unavailable or no longer wanted the package. In addition, the law explicitly permits the prosecutor to charge and convict the offender with any other crime relating to the “porch piracy” or mail theft if those penalties are harsher (e.g. larceny of property worth over $1,000.00 is a felony in Michigan punishable by a fine up to $10,000.00 or up to 5 years in prison even for first-time offenders).

Federal law also penalizes the theft or receipt of stolen mail without regard to being a first offense. 18 U.S.C. §1708 provides as follows:

  • “Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein; OR”
  • “Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein which has been left for collection upon or adjacent to a collection box or other authorized depository of mail matter; OR”
  • “Whoever buys, receives, or conceals, or unlawfully has in his possession, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein, which has been so stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted, as herein described, knowing the same to have been stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted – “
  • “Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

Michigan lawmakers hope that these aggressive state and federal laws will curtail “porch pirates” from stealing packages and ruining the Christmas season. Anyone still harboring the foolish thought of mail theft should beware that front door camera systems are relatively inexpensive and more prevalent on homes throughout the country to address this very problem. If your face is captured on a good screenshot and plastered on social media, it will not take long for you to be identified, arrested and prosecuted. The lure of the mystery box on someone’s porch is not worth the potential fine and incarceration. You can expect that the prosecutor and the judge will show little mercy to anyone brazen enough to commit these senseless acts.

If you or a loved one are charged with any crime, you need the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner. Do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorney at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC to start your best defense today.

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