18 U.S. Code § 1709 - Theft of Mail Matter by Officer or Employee
The United States Postal Service is entrusted to handle millions of letters and parcels daily, many containing personal information, money, credit cards, or other items of value.
The postal service is one of the oldest institutions in the United States and is entitled to special protections under federal law. Interfering with their operations or attempting to prevent mail from being delivered by the post office could result in harsh consequences.
Given the essential role of the USPS in facilitating communication and commerce, postal employees must live up to the public trust by handling the mail appropriately and delivering it reliably, without interference or theft.
Title 18 U.S.C. 1709 aims to protect the integrity and security of the USPS and its customers by making it a federal crime for postal employees to steal mail.
18 U.S.C. 1709 says, “Whoever, being a Postal Service officer or employee, embezzles any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein entrusted to him or which comes into his possession intended to be conveyed by mail, or carried or delivered by any carrier, messenger, agent, or other person employed… or forwarded through or delivered from any post office or station thereof established by authority of the Postmaster General or of the Postal Service; or steals, abstracts, or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, shall be….”
If convicted under this law, you could face up to five years in prison. Let's review this federal statute in more detail below.
What Does the Law Say?
18 U.S.C. 1709 prohibits officers or employees of the USPS from stealing, embezzling, or otherwise unlawfully taking mail entrusted to them for delivery or processing. The law covers all letters, postcards, packages, bags, or other mail pieces as they move through different stages of the postal system.
Specifically, the law makes it a crime for postal officers or employees to do either of the following:
- Embezzle (i.e., steal) any package or piece of mail directly; or
- Steal or remove any item inside a package or mail.
The term "officer" refers to any person holding a position of authority within the USPS. At the same time, "employee" encompasses anyone working for the USPS, whether full-time, part-time, or temporarily.
What Are the Elements of the Crime?
To secure a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1709, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You were an officer or employee of the USPS at the time of the alleged crime;
- As a USPS officer or employee, you took unlawful possession of mail matter; and
- You did so with the willful intent to steal or embezzle. In other words, you weren't just in possession of mail you weren't supposed to have—you took it with the intention of theft.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Darlene is a mail carrier on an isolated rural route. She notices a package in her truck that was shipped from an expensive jewelry company. She quietly sets the package aside for the purpose of pawning whatever jewelry is inside for cash.
Darlene can be charged with postal employee mail theft under 18 U.S.C. 1709.
EXAMPLE 2: Dan and Fred are postal employees at a distribution center. Together they concoct a scheme to quietly intercept any mail that looks like they contain credit cards so they can "skim" the data and create fake credit cards.
Dan and Fred can be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1709 and other federal crimes.
EXAMPLE 3: Tom is a USPS employee who accidentally takes home a package intended for delivery. He returns it unopened the next day. Tom is not guilty under 18 U.S.C. 1709 because there was no intent to steal or embezzle the mail matter.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 83 Postal Service has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S. Code 1709 theft of mail matter by officer or employee, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 1691 – Laws governing postal savings;
- 18 U.S.C. 1692 – Foreign mail as United States mail;
- 18 U.S.C. 1693 – Carriage of mail generally;
- 18 U.S.C. 1694 – Carriage of matter out of mail over post routes;
- 18 U.S.C. 1695 – Carriage of matter out of mail on vessels;
- 18 U.S.C. 1696 – Private express for letters and packets;
- 18 U.S.C. 1697 – Transportation of persons acting as private express;
- 18 U.S.C. 1698 – Prompt delivery of mail from a vessel;
- 18 U.S.C. 1699 – Certification of delivery from a vessel;
- 18 U.S.C. 1700 – Desertion of mails;
- 18 U.S.C. 1701 – Obstruction of mail generally;
- 18 U.S.C. 1702 – Obstruction of correspondence;
- 18 U.S.C. 1703 – Delay or destruction of mail or newspapers;
- 18 U.S.C. 1704 – Keys or locks stolen or reproduced;
- 18 U.S.C. 1705 – Destruction of letter boxes or mail;
- 18 U.S.C. 1706 – Injury to mail bags;
- 18 U.S.C. 1707 – Theft of property used by Postal Service;
- 18 U.S.C. 1708 – Theft or receipt of stolen mail matter;
- 18 U.S.C. 1710 – Theft of newspapers;
- 18 U.S.C. 1711 – Misappropriation of postal funds;
- 18 U.S.C. 1712 – Falsification of postal returns;
- 18 U.S.C. 1713 – Issuance of money orders without payment;
- 18 U.S.C. 1715 – Firearms as nonmailable regulations;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716 – Injurious articles as nonmailable;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716A – Nonmailable locksmithing devices;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716B – Nonmailable plants;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716C – Forged agricultural certifications;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716D – Nonmailable injurious animals, plant pests;
- 18 U.S.C. 1716E – Tobacco products as nonmailable;
- 18 U.S.C. 1717 – Letters and writings as nonmailable;
- 18 U.S.C. 1719 – Franking privilege;
- 18 U.S.C. 1720 – Canceled stamps and envelopes;
- 18 U.S.C. 1721 – Sale or pledge of stamps;
- 18 U.S.C. 1722 – False evidence to secure second-class rate;
- 18 U.S.C. 1723 – Avoidance of postage by using lower class matter;
- 18 U.S.C. 1724 – Postage on mail delivered by foreign vessels;
- 18 U.S.C. 1725 – Postage unpaid on deposited mail matter;
- 18 U.S.C. 1726 – Postage collected unlawfully;
- 18 U.S.C. 1728 – Weight of mail increased fraudulently;
- 18 U.S.C. 1729 – Post office conducted without authority;
- 18 U.S.C. 1730 – Uniforms of carriers;
- 18 U.S.C. 1731 – Vehicles falsely labeled as carriers;
- 18 U.S.C. 1732 – Approval of bond or sureties by postmaster;
- 18 U.S.C. 1733 – Mailing periodical publications without prepayment;
- 18 U.S.C. 1734 – Editorials and other matters as advertisements;
- 18 U.S.C. 1735 – Sexually oriented advertisements;
- 18 U.S.C. 1736 – Restrictive use of information;
- 18 U.S.C. 1737 – Manufacturer of sexually related mail matter.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 1709?
The penalties for a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1709 can be severe. The maximum sentence for this offense is a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.
However, the penalty will depend on various factors, including the case's specific circumstances, the federal sentencing guidelines, downward departures, the value of the stolen mail matter, and the accused's criminal history.
In addition to fines and imprisonment, an individual convicted of theft of mail matter by office or employee might also face other consequences, such as loss of employment with the USPS, damage to their professional reputation, and potential civil liability if the victim of the theft decides to pursue a lawsuit.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1709?
If you're a USPS officer or employee accused of mail theft under 18 U.S.C. 1709, a skilled federal criminal defense attorney can employ various defense strategies to counter the charge, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of Intent. The prosecution must prove that you were in possession of mail and intended to steal or embezzle.
If you show that you had no such intent, for example, you mistakenly took the mail and remedied the error when you discovered it, you may be acquitted of the crime.
Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken Identity. Among many USPS employees, prosecutors could easily charge you by mistake. If your attorney can show evidence that you were not involved and prosecutors charged the wrong person, the charges may be dismissed.
You can contact us to review the case details by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.