The United States Postal Service (USPS) creed states that neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night can prevent the postal service from the swift completion of its appointed rounds. Somehow, the USPS manages to move billions of pieces of mail every year despite all of the complications that might prevent delivery.
One obstacle not mentioned in the motto is a mail thief, perhaps because when someone steals mail, the federal government steps in. Theft of mail is a federal crime, a felony that could result in prison time, the loss of the right to vote or hold public office, and significant fines.
The following article provides an overview of the actions considered to constitute mail theft and the penalties for various offenses.
Mail Theft and the Law
The theft of mail includes the stealing or taking of any posted item, including packages and postcards. This crime does not require the use of force; the taking of items through fraud, deception, or embezzlement are included within the definition of the crime. The mail thief need not intend to keep the mail they are taking. Hiding or destroying mail also constitutes mail theft, as does the purchase, receipt, or possession of mail that one knows was stolen.
Sometimes mail may need to be left unattended by postal workers, which can open the door to theft. Mail theft occurs when mail is wrongfully taken from either the post office or a mailbox, as well as instances where a mail item is taken from a place where it was left for collection on or adjacent to a collection box or authorized depository.
Conviction for mail theft under 18 U.S. Code, Section 1708 carries potential penalties including fines and federal prison sentences of up to five years.
It Was an Inside Job
Handling other peoples' mail all day must create some temptations. People send all sorts of interesting and valuable things through the post and employees of the postal service have plenty of opportunities to make off with packages and letters.
Fortunately, the law includes specific provisions relating to mail theft by postal service employees. Any post office employee or officer that embezzles, steals, abstracts, or removes any of the contents of a letter, package, bag, or mail that has been entrusted to them to be conveyed through the mail and delivered is guilty of mail theft. Postal employee mail thieves are subject, pursuant to 18 U.S. Code, Section 1709, to fines and imprisonment for up to five years.
In a section of the law that hearkens back to a bygone era when print media was both powerful and ubiquitous, there are even special prohibitions on the theft, by post office employees, of any newspaper or package of newspapers. This crime, discussed in 18 U.S. Code, Section 1710, is punishable by a fine and a maximum of a year in prison, though it is hard to imagine that it occurs too often in the digital age.
Charged with Mail Theft? Contact an Attorney
Taking mail that isn't intended for you carries serious potential penalties, even when the theft itself was relatively innocuous. If you're facing prosecution for mail theft, it's a good idea to contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and learn about your options.