Is Mail Theft a Felony?

SQ Attorneys

Often times, clients come in to our office and informing us that they did not receive a court notice or a letter from the department of licensing informing them of a potential license suspension. At times we further discover that the client was a victim of mail theft, which has become all too common. Mail delivery in the United States is handled by the the United States Postal Service (USPS). The 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 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.

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 applied 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.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So, it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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