Penal Code 530.5(e) PC - Mail Theft in California
The daily mail that people receive every day in their mailbox often contains private information, such as names, account numbers, financial information, and other personal identification information.
It could leave them vulnerable to identity theft or other fraud-related offenses. Thus, mail fraud is a misdemeanor crime defined under California Penal Code Section 530.5(e) PC and carries jail time and a fine if convicted.
Simply put, letters and packages traveling through the United States mail and other carriers are protected by law.
Penal Code 530.5(e) PC says, “Every person who commits mail theft, as defined in Section 1708 of Title 18 of the United States Code, is guilty of a public offense, and upon conviction therefor shall be punished by a fine, by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year or by both a fine and imprisonment. Prosecution under this subdivision shall not limit or preclude prosecution under any other provision of law, including, but not limited to, subdivisions (a) to (c), inclusive, of this section.”
A related law, Penal Code 530.5 PC identity theft, says, “(a) Every person who willfully obtains personal identifying information, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 530.55, of another person, and uses that information for any unlawful purpose, including to obtain or attempt to obtain, credit, goods, services, real property, or medical information without the consent of that person, is guilty of a public offense, and upon conviction therefor, shall be….”
A prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt several elements of the crime to obtain a conviction, such as showing you willfully tore down, destroyed, or broke into any letter box intended to deliver mail or willfully defaced any mail deposited inside. Let's review this law further below.
Mail Theft – Explained
As noted, Penal Code 530.5(e) PC makes it a crime to steal any letters, parcels, postcards, and packages sent through the postal service. Mail theft includes the following:
- Stealing someone's mail from a mailbox, or other depository, which includes stealing packages from someone's front porch or doorstep;
- Stealing mail or packages from a post office, mail vehicle, or mail carrier;
- Securing someone's mail through fraud or deception from any of the above;
- Opening or destroying somebody's stolen mail or removing the contents;
- Hiding stolen mail or packages;
- Receive, buy, or possess mail knowing it's stolen.
What Are the Related Laws?
Several California laws are related to Penal Code 530.5(e) PC. Sometimes, they are charged along with, or instead of, mail theft and include the following:
- Penal Code 530.5(a) PC - Identity theft is a common reason mail is stolen. This law is defined as stealing someone's personal identifying information and using it fraudulently, and often charged along with mail theft.
- Penal Code 484e PC - Credit card fraud law makes stealing someone's credit or debit card or someone's information a crime.
- Penal Code 487 PC - Grand theft could be charged when the value of the stolen mail exceeds $950.
- Penal Code 488 PC - Petty theft could be charged when the value of the stolen mail is less than $950.
- Penal Code 496 PC - Receiving stolen property is defined as buying, receiving, concealing, or selling property you know is stolen.
Violating PC 530.5(e) is a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1000, but judges will often impose summary probation.
Can Mail Theft Be Charged as a Federal Crime?
Possibly. Since mail theft often involves the United States Postal Service operated by the government, it could potentially be charged as a federal offense under Title 18, U.S. Code 1708. Therefore, California's mail theft statute refers directly to this federal law for its definition of mail theft.
Notably, the federal government normally allows state prosecution of mail theft cases. If the government chooses to prosecute mail theft, it would normally involve a large-scale illegal operation that crosses state lines or international borders.
18 U.S. Code 1708 - Theft or receipt of stolen mail matter generally law says, “Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letterbox, mail receptacle, or any mail route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein, Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
What Are the PC 530.5(e) Defenses?
Suppose you are charged with mail theft. In that case, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers could use different strategies, as discussed below.
Maybe we can argue the mail was taken accidentally. Maybe the mail was delivered to the wrong address by mistake.
Maybe we can argue that you opened someone else's mail with the belief it belonged to you. Maybe you did not pay close attention to the name and address on the letter.
Maybe we can argue you did not intend to steal the mail or package. Maybe you removed it from someone's porch to keep it safe from bad weather. Maybe you had the intent to give the unopened letter or package to the owner later.
Maybe we can argue police misconduct, such as an Illegal search and seizure. Maybe the police lacked probable cause or a warrant, violating your constitutional rights.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor prefiling to avoid criminal charges. Perhaps we can negotiate a favorable plea deal if guilt is not in doubt. Contact us for a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark have offices in Los Angeles, CA.