On Wednesday, a bill designed to increase penalties for those who steal packages from outside people’s homes was struck down 5 to 2 during the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing.
Harsher sentences rejected for ‘porch pirates’
Senate Bill 979, written by Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee), would have made stealing packages a new type of burglary offense. Instead of using differing degrees of burglary for ‘porch pirates’ under the current law, the new law would have issued a straight system based on the number of prior offenses. First and second time offenders would be issued a misdemeanor with a prison sentence as high as 12 months. For any more committed within 36 months of being released the crime could then be tried as a felony punishable with a jail sentence between 16 months and 3 years.
Senator Jones had originally written the bill to combat a growing number of ‘porch pirate’ cases, help drive down higher insurance and product costs caused by the thefts, and to better balance widely differing burglary laws inside and outside the home. After coronavirus measures hit, Senator Jones also added that since many packages had medicine or food needed by more vulnerable residents who couldn’t leave, SB 979 would also protect them during a time of crisis.
“Some of the most vulnerable in our community, such as seniors and disabled individuals, rely on home delivery of goods for survival,” said Senator Jones earlier this week. “During the COVID-19 crisis, vulnerable individuals unable to leave their home rely on package delivery for essential items such as medication and food. Unfortunately, an increase in package delivery has also led to an increase in package theft from outside Californians’ homes. This ‘porch piracy’ epidemic is serious and needs to be addressed by our criminal justice system. Current law is weak on the punishment of this type of theft but this bill would have increased the consequences significantly.”
A ‘wrong time to push for harsher sentences’
While most committee members agreed that porch piracy was a growing problem, it was still voted down on party lines. While reasons differed, from questions over whether it needed to be a felony to concern over giving years of jail time over stealing something of an unknown value, the a big concern was the number of new longer-term prisoners that the new law would bring.
“They picked the wrong time to push for harsher sentences,” noted lawyer Christopher Headly. “Right now many prisoners are facing higher than average probabilities of contracting coronavirus while in jail. California is actually releasing prisoners early right now because of that. Sending more in for longer terms is seen by some as essentially sending them away to get the virus. Even some Republicans have voiced concerns in putting more people in prison right now.”
“If the virus wasn’t here, the bill would have at least moved higher up. It probably would have been amended, but it was likely it would have been passed.”
“And [Senator Jones] did a valiant job of tying it in with the coronavirus and how it affects people. It was just brought up at the wrong time.”
“If this was addressed closer to Christmas with no major quarantine going on, it would have had a real chance of getting to the Governor.”
“This probably isn’t the last we’ve seen of this bill.”
Senator Jones echoed that reasoning on Wednesday.
“While the committee agreed porch piracy is a problem in the state, unfortunately, the committee did not agree that these offenders deserve a punishment that’s fit for their crime,” Jones said.