Dear PoPville – What do you think is the Appropriate Punishment for a Convicted Package Thief?


“Dear PoPville,

Last year, I had a package stolen off my porch. They were able to find, arrest, and convict the thief, and I just got my letter in the mail saying that the thief has been sentenced to imprisonment for theft in the second degree. She had stolen some things worth under $50.

I know the AUSA called me a couple weeks ago to verify the total cost of the items because she said she was going to try to get restitution (though I never expected for restitution to ever be received, whether that was the sentence or not). The possible sentences are imprisonment of 180 days or less, or a fine of no more than $1,000, or both for theft in the second degree.

Everyone hates package thieves and cheers when they get arrested, but I’m curious about what people think is an appropriate punishment for them?”

80 Comment

  • A minimum of 90 days in jail seems about right to me

  • Summary execution

  • Force them to work for UPS for the entire two weeks before Christmas

  • I think it’s absurd to base the punishment for any crime on “accidental” results. A thief does not know the value of the package they are stealing when they steal it. If someone shoots another person it shouldn’t matter if his aim is bad and the victim doesn’t die.

    • Results are ALWAYS integral parts of a crime, and the appropriate sentence. To use your example, you think exactly the same sentence should be handed down for two people who both intentionally aim firearms at innocent strangers and pull the triggers, but one hits and kills the stranger, while the other misses entirely and the bullet buries itself in a tree? That’s absurd.

      • That’s exactly what I think and I don’t consider it absurd at all. Both shooters intended to kill someone.

        • What if someone intended to shoot a tree (or a cat, etc), missed and shot a person?

        • What you miss when you only look at intent vs. outcome are unintentional crimes. Do you think things like vehicular manslaughter are ok?

          • If you don’t get the difference between vehicular manslaughter and, say, first degree murder, you don’t belong in any discussion about criminal penalties. Intent matters. That’s a key issue in American jurisprudence, going back centuries.

        • I see. So the murderer gets the same punishment as the person who knocks a few leaves off a tree. The person who shoots a gun up into the air in celebration of New Years Eve gets charged with reckless discharge of a firearm, even if the bullet kills a 5 yo when it falls to earth. You’ve also eliminated all negligence-based crimes, since none of them include intent as an element. And the drink driver who t-bones a minivan and kills an entire family? Well, he didn’t INTEND to kill anyone, so just take his license away for 6 months and call it a day.
          You’re right, it isn’t absurd. It’s ridiculous.

          • Personally I find the intent to kill more deplorable that negligence or accident.

          • So you think intendign to kill someone (but failing to even injure him) is worthy of greater punishment than actually killing someone through negligent behavior? Because that’s what we’re talking about.

          • DCD,

            Different hypothetical: a factory worker falls asleep on the job, resulting in the death of a co-worker. Someone calls the deceased worker’s widow, who is at home. Enraged, the worker’s widow grabs her gun, heads down to the factory, and shoots at the worker who fell asleep, narrowly missing him. Both are arrested. You think they should both serve the same sentence?

          • Let’s add some illegal drug usage to that hypo. The sleeping worker fell asleep because he was nodding off on heroin. Hence, criminal negligence.

            Same sentence as the attempted shooter?

          • @Wylie: Of course not. That’s the point I’ve been making all along. The criminal justice system takes into account both intent and results. That’s the reason there are different charges and sentences for negligent homicide and intentional murder (even though the outcome is the same) and murder and attempted murder (even though the intent is the same). Strip either intent or outcome out of the equation entirely, you’re left with absurd results (actually, even more absurd results than sometimes happen under the current system, which is by no means perfect).

  • I chose whatever option has the best chance of leading to some kind of rehabilitation. I would imagine that a package thief is a chronic criminal though I have no facts to back that up. So whatever sentence has the best chance to make it so they don’t do it again (but obviously I am not referring to life in prison).

    • Chop off their hands. Then they can’t pick up any more packages…. All kidding aside, some jail time, a fine, and community service is fine with me. The value of the package that was stolen is totally irrelevant IMHO

  • Had a package ($90 shirt) stolen two weeks ago. I found the box a block away, torn open. If you had asked me right then what the punished should be, I’d have said “catapult them into the surface of the earth’s sun.”

    Now that time has passed, and now the package has been replaced for free by the sender, I’m a bit more calm. I admit that I would feel kind of crummy that someone would be imprisoned for stealing my blue gingham button down.

    Maybe some sort of community service?

  • Chop off their arms.
    make them wear a sign displaying “package thief”, while picking up trash.

    • Probably best to have them pick up the trash and THEN chop off their arms. I mean, a Sisyphean task would just be mean.

  • Didn’t realize this: “When a person has two or more prior theft convictions, any subsequent theft offense (even an offense that will qualify as petty theft) will be punishable by a mandatory-minimum term of not less than one year. In other words, the offender cannot be released from imprisonment, granted probation, or receive a suspended sentence prior to serving the mandatory-minimum term. For the purposes of this provision of D.C. law, the previous convictions may have occurred in the District of Columbia or any jurisdiction with a law prohibiting theft, larceny, or any other equivalent crime. (D.C. Code Ann. § 2232-12.)”

    • Huge waste of resources. A year in jail will cost the taxpayer $50K. Give them 6 months of full time community service.

  • Lifetime ban from Amazon and Zappo’s and no Christmas gifts for 5-10 years

  • Loss of a hand.

  • Jail time and restitution. There have to be consequences for things like this.

  • Same punishment someone would get for shopliffting at a store. Its no different.

  • Ah, yes the American cultural blood-lust rears it’s ugly head w/r/t crime.
    “Summary execution”
    “Death by stoning”
    “Chop off a hand!”
    Is the blood of their children warm when you drink it? How do you feel about indentured servitude (e.g. the criminal should serve the needs of the OP for 6 months)? When will Americans finally re-introduce the debtors prison?

    • I’m pretty sure that all of those examples you provided were jokes, dude

    • Scrillin

      Stop being so MEAN to thieves! Check your privilege, everybody.

    • I’m assuming this is a joke as well.

    • Chilled, with vodka horseradish and celery.

    • Actually, that idea of yours about indentured servitude, while you meant it as a joke, is seriously appealing. I was going to say 3 years in jail, but I’d TOTALLY take 6 months in jail and 6 months as my slave doing whatever demeaning tasks I came up with, day or night, for 12 hours a day five days a week and think that they got off easy, but still fair.

      • Shaw Guy,

        That is beyond absurd. Six months as your slave? And you don’t even appear to be joking. For a package that’s likely to be worth less than 100 bucks? Your priorities are ruined. I’d suggest you read a book or two about indentured servitude – “think that they got off easy” WTF?

    • Anti social people should be removed from society. They make a choice to act contrary to our norms, mores, and laws.

  • Time or $ significantly greater than the expected value of the crime so that it deters the crime. I.e., Odds of getting caught x punishment cost > Financial gain of crime

    These are not crimes of passion but rather are typically committed by repeat criminals, so they should have a fairly rational response .

    • I agree. Rather than spending taxpayer money on keeping these people in jail, it would be better to hire more police to patrol neighborhoods on foot, and to impose huge fines for package theft. If the likelihood of getting caught is higher, and the cost of getting caught offsets the money made from stealing packages, then it wouldn’t make sense to do it.

      • I thought I remembered reading some studies that the likelihood of getting caught is a much bigger deterrent than the severity of the sentence. Because the severity of the sentence doesn’t matter if you don’t get caught, see? (Also, they don’t think that far ahead.) So, I’m with you on the increasing the chance of getting caught, but I’m not sure increasing the fines or imprisonment term will do much good.

        • I feel like getting caught and released with a slap on the wrist would be traumatic the first time it happened, but a routine part of “doing business” after that. But then again I don’t have the mindset of these criminals.

        • That’s called the expected value.

  • I don’t think jail time is the answer, it needs to be more than that. They should have to work to replace what they stole. If it was only worth $50, it is an easier sentance, but if it was worth $1000, it will obviously be harder, this will help them understand how it feels to work for something, then have it taken away. I think there should also be some sort of minimum sentance that involves a fair amount of community service for all theft convictions and the service should be performed in the area from which they stole.

  • Beheading!!

    Kidding. Moderate slap on the wrist(probation/restitution) the first time, then punishment increases exponentially for each subsequent package theft.

  • Public shaming and community service seems appropriate.

  • It seems like the punishment should be based on intent rather than the value of items stolen. If they tore open your package and found $1000 worth of items, instead of $20, do you think they wouldn’t have taken them? Of course they would have. When my house was burglarized it was certainly irrelevant to me that the only thing they could find to steal was an old laptop. And I don’t think the victims of robberies feel any less victimized if the robber doesn’t take anything from them.

  • 1 year for every $100 worth of theft.

  • They’d have to box George Zimmerman

  • Death by bhunda!

  • I live in a condo building up at the top of adams morgan on adams mill road. we had been having some ongoing package theft over the earlier winter months but it seemed to die down. this past week, we had a resident complain of a package stolen and checked the security cameras. sure enough, at 6:30 in the morning, a middle aged african american woman all bundled up for the snow used a screwdriver type tool to gain access through the front door and walk off with a months supply of baby diapers. maybe the punishment for her could be endless diaper changes??

  • The problem is that these folks get caught for stealing a $90 shirt, but they only get caught for every one out of 1000 crimes. So this one arrest really represent $90,000 worth of thefts. This is what they do for a living. You throw them in jail for 3 months, and they just go back to work at their chosen profession.

    It also seem a waste to house them for 50K per year. There is no easy answer to the OP’s question.

  • Bondage utilizing package tape and fresh produce from Peapod

  • Great answer to the question.

  • Penalty: Weekend Jail-time (6 weekends)
    Transportation: Amazon Drone w/ nipple clamp “harnesses”

  • Well I’ve found that a good way to avoid answering a difficult question is to answer a different question.

  • It’s got to be community service. Jails are a for-profit industry that I don’t want to support. We lock up a ridiculous number of non-violent offenders. It’s truly absurd.
    I suggest that package thieves and other non-violent, relatively petty criminals be required to complete some number of months in a (to be created) jobs program, where they do menial work for minimum wage. They must pay restitution out of this wage, so that every time they get a paycheck (which they need to stay on the straight and narrow), they see how much of their hard-earned money is going to pay for their crime. We get our trash picked up and our leaves raked and our parks shoveled. Hell, station one at each dog park and have them pick up shit so the yuppies don’t have to. The jobs do not have to be pleasant, or really even totally necessary. It’ll still be cheaper than housing them in a prison.

    • Agreed. And they’ll pay TAXES on those wages. It’s a huge net gain for the taxpayer.

    • I have actually been wondering why there isn’t more discussion about this. Maybe there is and I just missed it, but it seems like for certain types of crimes and criminals this would be way better than jail.

      • Because chain gangs.
        (I’ve seen these discussions shut down before.)

        • Thanks. That’s pretty much what I was thinking but I hadn’t actually seen it discussed. Still I wish there could be some punitive alternative to prison that actually benefits both the criminal and society.

  • I think everyone who’s lived in a city for more than 5 seconds knows that tip, but thanks.

    • Problem is a lot of people can’t do that or don’t want to. I guess I could, but I feel like it’s not right to burden the receptionist with my personal mail, and a lot of the things I order are too big/bulky to carry home.
      A better solution is to shop local whenever possible!

  • One of us photogs should submit a new “package theft” stock image to the PoPville Flickr pool. I’m getting tired of seeing that same out-of-focus photo over and over again. 🙂

  • 180 days in jail sounds about right. Harsh, yes, but a deterrent. Petty and not so petty crime is DC’s Achilles heal.

    • Jail time is not a deterrent. Many studies, over many years, have shown that not only is jail time not a deterrent, time spent in jail tends to increase instances of future lawbreaking.

    • I’m with you. Property theft should be a mandatory jail sentence of at least 180 days after the first conviction.

  • Some of us don’t have that option.

  • This may be decriminalized soon! Oh you meant throw rocks at them…

  • Live with my Ex

  • Indentured servant

  • First time offense, for an item worth less than $100, I’d say 90 days. Court mandated substance abuse treatment as well, where applicable (i.e. if the thief has a substance abuse problem). Also, community service and restitution.

    Second offense, 180 days. Followed by a year of court mandated substance abuse treatment, if applicable. Neaning if someone has been convicted of this twice and has a substance abuse problem, they need serious intervention at this point.

    Third offense means you’re trying to make a career out of it and you need to be branded a felon – one year.

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