Mail Theft

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 the complications that might prevent delivery.

One obstacle not mentioned in the motto is a mail thief, perhaps because the federal government steps in when someone steals mail. 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. Stolen mail has become a major problem over the years and now carries heavy penalties.

The following article gives an overview of the actions that constitute mail theft and the penalties for various offenses.

Mail Theft and the Law

The federal law related to mail theft is in 18 U.S. Code § 1708. This code section gives a lot of criteria for the offense, which always involves mail theft from either a mail carrier or a person's mailbox. It may involve stealing mail from whatever receptacle or space a person or entity uses to get mail. The United States Code indicates fines and up to five years in prison for convictions.

Mail theft includes stealing or taking any posted item, including packages and postcards. This crime does not require the use of force; the taking of things through fraud, deception, or embezzlement is included within the definition of the crime. The mail thief need not intend to keep the mail they are taking. Hiding or destroying mail is also mail theft, as is the purchase, receipt, or possession of stolen mail.

Sometimes mail is 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 when a mail item is taken from a place left for collection on or adjacent to a collection box or authorized depository.

A conviction for mail theft under 18 U.S. Code § Section 1708 carries potential penalties of fines and federal prison sentences of up to five years.

It Was an Inside Job

Handling other peoples' mail all day can foster temptation. People send all sorts of interesting and valuable things through the post, and postal service employees 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 who embezzles, steals, abstracts, or removes any of the contents of a letter, package, bag, or mail entrusted to them to be conveyed through the mail and delivered is guilty of mail theft. Postal employee mail thieves are subject, under 18 U.S. Code § Section 1709, to fines and imprisonment for up to five years.

In a section of the law that harkens back to 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.C. § Section 1710, is punishable by a fine and up to a year in prison, though it is hard to imagine it occurs too often in the digital age.

Related Offenses

Mail theft can take the shape of many other offenses. They span many areas of criminal law. Some of the kinds of crimes that can result from stealing mail are:

  • Identity theft.
  • Fraud, with stolen credit cards and theft of other sensitive information.
  • Mail fraud.
  • Other fraudulent schemes.
  • Grand theft.
  • Petty theft.

You can learn more about grand theft, petty theft, and other similar crimes at FindLaw's article about theft and punishment.

The laws on mail theft can vary from one state to the next. It's important to check the laws of your state to learn more. These offenses can be misdemeanors or even felonies, depending on the nature of the offense.

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.

If your crime is federal, your trial will be in a federal court. The sentencing guidelines for mail theft can be harsh and a mail theft conviction can leave a stain on your criminal record. Criminal charges like these can follow you for the rest of your life. 

Whether your mail theft charge or offense is in the first degree or the third degree, it's important to get the legal advice of a criminal defense attorney. Their legal defense can help you get the best possible outcome in your case. These offenses can carry penalties involving jail time, so if you're facing mail theft charges it's important to get a criminal defense lawyer's help.

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