Stealing Mail is Serious Business in California

california mail theft

Technology has become one of our primary means of sending and receiving information. But that does not mean that there is no place for traditional mail delivery and the United States Postal Service (USPS). And, with the enormous rise in online shopping in recent months due to the pandemic, more and more people are getting daily visits from delivery drivers dropping off packages, bags and other parcels.

Letters and other mail delivered to your mailbox can contain a wide variety of important personally identifiable information. If this information gets in the wrong hands, it could put someone at risk for identity theft and other crimes. While it may sound somewhat silly to levy such serious consequences for a mail theft conviction, it is considered a very serious crime, making it illegal in both the state of California and under federal law. 

Stealing mail that is not addressed to you could result in both misdemeanor and felony charges that could leave you with hefty fines and jail time if convicted. If you are facing mail theft charges in California, your first step should be to contact a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with state laws regarding mail theft, as well as fraud, petty theft, grand theft and receiving stolen property laws. 

How is mail theft defined under the law?

The definition of mail theft is provided under United States Code Section 1708 of Title 18. The law stipulates that certain criteria must be met in order to be considered mail theft. Mail theft occurs when an individual:

  • Removes mail (defined as a letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail) from a mailbox, mail carrier, post office or other mail receptacle
  • Engages in fraud or other deceptive means to take mail from the sources listed above
  • Removes items or paperwork from a stolen piece of mail
  • Destroys mail
  • Hides mail
  • Knowingly buys or possesses stolen mail

The state of California Penal Code 530.5 (e) states that mail theft is a public offense that is considered a misdemeanor and punished by a fine of up to $1,000 and prison time in county jail of up to 1 year, or both fines and prison time.

Is mail theft fraud? 

When a person steals mail, it is not usually because they are just nosey. In most cases, the mail is stolen in order to obtain personal identifying information such as banking information, account numbers and Social Security Numbers. Identity theft can wreak havoc on someone’s life, ruining their credit and creating repercussions that may be felt for many years.

Oftentimes, criminals will use fraudulent methods in order to obtain mail. This means that they knowingly deceived an entity, such as a business or a mail carrier, into releasing mail or packages into their hands. If an individual has taken mail with the intent to steal the victim's identity, they do not have to be successful in order to still be convicted of mail theft. However, if they used deceptive tactics to obtain the mail in the first place, the individual will likely face multiple charges outside of mail theft, including fraud.

Possible Defenses For a Mail Theft Charge

If you have been charged with mail theft in the state of California, there are some potential strong defenses that your criminal defense attorney can raise on your behalf. For one, you can contend that you did not have intent to steal the mail. For example, you can state that it was an accident or the mail was inadvertently delivered to your house, and you opened it without reading the address label.

Another possible defense is that you did in fact open the mail, but you had no criminal intentions. For example, an acceptance letter from a university has arrived in the mail for your grandson, and you open the mail because you wanted to deliver the good news yourself.

No matter if you are facing California state charges or federal charges for mail theft, it is a charge that must be taken seriously. Misdemeanors and felonies can have serious ramifications on your personal, professional and financial situation. And, they can remain on your record permanently, impacting your future.

If you are facing mail theft charges in California, contact criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein. Joni Eisenstein will work with you one-on-one to understand the facts of your case and will competently provide you with the best possible defense for your situation. Contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein for your free consultation with our experienced, reputable and highly skilled criminal San Diego criminal defense attorney.