Kentucky bill would nab ‘porch pirates’ by closing 40-year-old legal loophole

·4 min read

Kentucky’s 40-year-old felony theft of mail statute soon could be updated to cover “porch pirates” who steal packages delivered by commercial carriers, such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved Senate Bill 23 and sent it to the full Senate.

Under the bill, the Class D felony charge of mail theft would be expanded to include packages left near the front door by a delivery service, not just mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. A Class D felony brings up to five years in prison.

Most thefts under $1,000 in Kentucky are misdemeanors, and they don’t get the same attention from law enforcement as felony thefts, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville. Even if a homeowner has security video of the thief swiping packages, misdemeanors aren’t taken as seriously, Yates said.

Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville
Sen. David Yates, D-Louisville

Yates said his bill will close “the loophole” in the law to equally protect everything delivered to Kentuckians’ homes.

“Now, how many of you have had constituent concerns with porch pirates, with thefts from their porch?” Yates asked the judiciary committee members.

“It’s a very big issue in Louisville,” Yates said, “an issue to the point that I worry it will escalate. I’ve talked about people who have been victimized over and over again with thefts from their front porch of the things — whether it be medicine, whatever it is being delivered, items that are important to them — and how they may act.”

A corrections impact statement prepared for the bill said there are presently 26 Kentuckians incarcerated for the crime of theft of mail and 107 on probation or parole. The bill is “not expected to significantly increase the number of convictions,” according to the impact statement.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, although Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said he is reluctant to continue expanding the definition of felony in Kentucky law, given how many people the state already imprisons. By comparison, a misdemeanor usually brings a short jail sentence or a fine, and it does not leave a felony record.

“I’m hesitant to start making misdemeanors (into) felonies,” Schroder said. “If it’s a five dollar package, a felony can seem kind of steep.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court tried to clarify this issue last year when it upheld the felony mail theft and persistent felony offender convictions of Jonathan F. Davis of Lexington.

Davis was convicted of stealing Amazon packages containing books and headphones from the front stoop of a teacher on Stone Road in Lexington. Home security video caught Davis in the act, and when the teacher and her husband saw Davis hosting a yard sale and identified him to police, he confessed, according to court records.

The jury recommended a sentence of three-and-a-half years in prison on the mail theft charge, enhanced to 20 years because Davis was a persistent felony offender. He’s currently housed at Northpoint Training Center, a state prison.

Davis appealed his conviction, arguing that he didn’t commit felony mail theft because he didn’t steal mail from a mailbox, he stole boxes left at a front door. Therefore, the criminal charge should have been misdemeanor theft of less than $500, Davis said.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against him. While the legislature did not explicitly include Amazon delivery boxes and other commercially delivered packages when it wrote the felony mail theft law in 1982, that clearly is the intent of the law, the court said.

“Especially today, people expect that by ordering an article for delivery, they impliedly and by default authorize the mail carrier to deposit this mail on the recipient’s porch, stoop or doorstep, absent specific directions otherwise, even if this location happens to be some distance removed from the front door or mailbox,” Justice Michelle Keller of Fort Mitchell wrote for the court.

“We hold that under the evidence as presented at trial, it would not be clearly unreasonable for a jury to find Davis guilty of theft of mail matter for stealing packages from an authorized depository, the front stoop of Stacey and Mike’s home,” Keller wrote.

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