Most people know that mail theft is a federal crime. In fact, it’s a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. This applies whether a letter or package is sent via UPS, USPS or FedEx. What most people don’t know is that anyone who steals mail sent through USPS can also be charged with mail theft in California state. Those who steal packages from people’s door steps, no matter the mail carrier, can also be charged with petty or grand theft depending on the value of the stolen property. Here’s what to know about California state laws covering mail and package theft.
Mail Theft Laws in California
While federal law covers all types of packages that could cross state lines, California’s mail theft law, 530.5(e) (PC), applies to “mail from a mailbox or receptacle or other authorized depository for mail, or from a post office or letter/mail carrier,” meaning it applies to mail delivered through the USPS only. Those charged with this crime can face misdemeanor charges, punishable by no more than one year in jail.
It’s worth mentioning that many people who steal mail do so in order to take and cash checks that were written to other people. When this happens, those who commit this crime can also be charged with fraud, forgery and/or identity theft.
Package Theft in California
Many packages are not delivered by USPS, but by Amazon, UPS, USPS or FedEx. While California’s mail theft laws don’t apply in these cases, the state’s theft laws do. This means that if the value of all items someone has taken is under $950, you can be charged with petty theft, which is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail. If the total value of the stolen property is worth more than $950, then the crime becomes grand theft, which can be filed as a felony or misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, it’s punishable by up to one year in jail and as a felony, it can carry a sentence of up to 3 years in prison.
Fighting the Charges
When it comes to mail or package theft, there are multiple ways to fight the charges most of which can be used against both state or federal charges. The most common defense is simply a lack of intent. As an example, if the post office accidentally sends you your neighbor’s mail and you open it without realizing it wasn’t addressed to you, then you are not guilty of a crime.
You could also defend yourself by arguing that the person the mail belonged to gave you permission to open their mail. This is often the case when assistants open mail for their bosses.
Similarly, you could have acted on accident. As an example, if you share a porch with the person next door in your apartment complex and you picked up and opened a package since you were expecting something -only to realize the package belonged to your neighbor, you weren’t guilty.
That being said, while you may not be guilty of taking your neighbor’s mail if you opened it under one of these circumstances, if you kept a letter, check, package or other type of mail after you became aware that it belonged to someone else, then you would become guilty of mail theft at that point. This is why it is so important to always work with a top defense attorney when you have been accused of this charge.
Mail Theft Laws Could Change Soon
With package theft becoming an increasingly common crime, senator Brian Jones recently introduced a law into the California State Senate that would change the state’s existing mail theft laws to cover packages delivered by all mail carriers. The bill, SB 358, would leave the existing penalty in place, but add additional protections to packages carried by private delivery agencies. The act seems likely to pass as few people find it reasonable to only outlaw the theft of mail delivered by the USPS.
If you have been accused of mail or package theft, it is critical you call a skilled defense lawyer in San Diego. Peter M. Liss has 35 years experience helping people fight all types of theft charges and he can help you too. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.