Snail mail has dwindled in recent years, but it’s still a vital means of sending and receiving important information. We might not think of it as necessary to our lives, but we have to admit we still receive letters that matter –from work, insurance companies, loan providers, investment accounts, and more. These letters aren’t just important, they may contain personally identifiable information. Meaning whoever gets their hands on this mail can steal your identity.
Mail theft might not sound serious, but identity theft does. The serious consequences of mail theft are why it’s illegal under federal and California law. Anyone charged with mail theft should contact a San Diego mail theft lawyer, who can build a strong defense.
What Constitutes Mail Theft
The crime of mail theft may sound self-explanatory, but it’s more than going up to someone’s mailbox and walking away with their letters. California Penal Code §530.5(e) requires the prosecutor to show the defendant committed the crime as defined by U.S. Code Title 18 §1708. A person can also be charged with a similar offense under United Sates Code Title 18 §1705, which covers the destruction of a mailbox and its contents.
In order to be convicted of mail theft, an individual must:
- Take mail from a mailbox, post office, letter carrier, or any other authorized place to put or store mail,
- Use fraud or deception to obtain mail from any of these places,
- Open and remove the contents of the mail,
- Hide or destroy any of the mail, or
- Buy or receive any of the illegally obtained mail, knowing it’s stolen.
Mail doesn’t just include letters, it’s also postcards, mail bags, and packages. It also doesn’t matter if the carrier was the U.S. Postal Service or UPS, FedEx, or another service.
Additionally, a person can be charged with destroying a mailbox and the mail in it, which is similar to theft. The person illegally destroyed what wasn’t theirs to control or alter.
Mail Theft by Fraud
Many individuals obtain other people’s mail by fraudulent methods. Fraud occurs when someone intentionally deceives a business or person for the purpose of personal or financial gain. While the offender unfairly benefits from his or her deceptions, the other individual is harmed or suffers a loss.
One example of mail theft by fraud is if someone poses as a valid recipient of the mail to obtain letters and packages. For instance, a friend of the family is over at the house at the time he knows the mail arrives. When he sees the mailman through the window, he goes to meet him at the door. He convinces the mailman to give the mail to him and then does not give it to the family. Instead, he keeps the mail for himself and tells the family there was no mail for them that day.
What Isn’t a Part of Mail Theft
Mail theft often leads to identity theft, but a prosecutor does not need to prove that the offender did anything with the information found in the mail. The above elements are all a prosecutor needs to show a judge or jury that the offender committed the crime of mail theft. However, if the information obtained was illegally used, the defendant will face multiple charges, likely including identity theft.
Penalties for Mail Theft
If the offender is prosecuted under California law, mail theft is a misdemeanor with the consequences of jail for up to one year and a fine up to $1,000.
However, California law relies on the federal definition of mail theft, which means when it occurs, the defendant can be prosecuted for the crime in state and federal court. Being charged with the federal offense of mail theft is serious. It’s a felony that comes with up to five years in prison and hefty fines.
Defenses to Mail Theft
A common defense to mail theft is that you didn’t have the intent to commit the crime. You can argue you accidentally grabbed the wrong person’s mail or it was wrongly delivered to your house, and you opened it without looking at the recipient on the front.
Another defense is that you intended to open another person’ piece of mail but that you lacked criminal intent. This means you opened the mail with good intentions, such as hearing good news first and being able to deliver it to the other person.
Contact a San Diego Mail Theft Lawyer
Whether you’re charged with a state or federal crime, mail theft should be taken seriously. Any conviction creates a permanent criminal record that can then affect your ability to obtain loans, housing, jobs, and more. A criminal record can be a handicap in every step of life, from getting your college degree to building a career and starting a family.
A California criminal defense lawyer like Jessica McElfresh with McElfresh Law is who you need when you’re charged with a crime. She’ll get to know you and every facet of your case. She’ll learn your situation forward and backward so that she can be a tenacious advocate for you in court. Call today at (858) 756-7107 for a free and confidential consultation.