Billions of letters and packages circulate around the country each year. From personal letters and postcards to advertisements and newspapers, people receive mail on a daily basis. But people also receive valuable things like credit cards, important bills, personal or sensitive information and expensive merchandise in the mail. While most of these items find their way safely to their recipients’ mailboxes, mail theft is not an unlikely scenario.

What counts as mail theft?

Simply put, mail theft occurs when you steal a package or letter that does not belong to you. It doesn’t have to be from a mailbox, either. Any item taken from a postal truck, P.O. box, mailing rack or other mail collection box counts as mail theft. The United States considers mail theft a federal crime.

Mail theft cases in California

Two California residents may have been unaware of the laws surrounding mail theft when police caught them stealing from resident mailboxes. Police arrested 39-year-old Leo Lawrence and Lakeshia Hardy, who were in possession of credit cards, checks and other personal information that did not belong to them. They also faced a string of other offenses such as conspiracy, burglary and falsely obtaining personal information.

Penalties for committing mail theft

At the state level, California law requires that offenders face fines, jail time up to a year or both. However, offenders may also have to contend with federal law. The United States code for mail theft requires offenders to serve up to five years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines.

Like Lawrence and Hardy, you might find yourself facing other charges as well that could result in additional penalties. Mail theft is often closely linked with identity theft, whose penalties include jail time and fines as well.

Being charged with mail theft is serious. The consequences can accumulate quickly, leaving you confused and unsure of what to do. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to fight for your case and find the best possible outcome for you.