Federal Crimes Blog

18 U.S. Code § 1709 - Theft of Mail Matter by Officer or Employee

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Oct 25, 2023

Mail theft refers to stealing items sent through the United States Postal Service (USPS), such as letters, packages, boxes, or anything else sent through the mail system.

Some common examples of mail theft include stealing mail from a postal worker's truck or tampering with or destroying mail that does not belong to you. 18 U.S.C. 1709 prohibits the theft of mail by officers or employees of the USPS. Violations of this statute are punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison.

Related 18 U.S.C. 1708 makes it a federal crime to take any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail from an authorized depository for mail matters. This law also makes it illegal to steal mail left for collection or fail to deliver mail entrusted to you.

The United States Postal Service is one of the oldest agencies in the country. It handles millions of letters and packages daily, including credit cards and other valuable items.  

Interference with postal service operations can result in federal prosecution and harsh penalties. The USPS plays a crucial role in facilitating communication and commerce. Thus, postal employees are expected to handle all mail appropriately, without interference or theft.

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 in any department of the Postal Service, 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 fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

What Factors Must Be Proven?

To convict you of violating section 1709, the federal prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You were an officer or employee of the USPS when the crime occurred;
  • You took unlawful possession of mail matter; and
  • You had the willful intent to steal or embezzle, meaning you took the mail matter with the intention of theft.

Theft of Mail Matter – Quick Facts

There are some essential facts you should know about 18 U.S. Code 1709 theft of mail matter by officer or employee law, such as the following:

  • This federal law prohibits USPS officers or employees from stealing, embezzling, or unlawfully taking mail entrusted to them for delivery;
  • The law covers all letters, postcards, packages, bags, or other mail pieces moving through different stages of the postal system.
  • The term "officer" means anyone with authority within the USPS;
  • The term "employee" means anyone working for the USPS, whether full-time, part-time, or temporarily.

What Are the Related Federal Statutes?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 83 Postal Service has numerous federal laws 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 to increase compensation;
  • 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 and car master keys;
  • 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, plants, and illegally taken fish, wildlife, and plants;
  • 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 of postage;
  • 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 and Defenses?

Suppose you are convicted of violating section 1709. In that case, you are facing a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

18 U.S. Code § 1709 - Theft of Mail Matter by Officer or Employee

The actual penalty, however, will always depend on different factors listed within the federal sentencing guidelines, downward departures, the value of the stolen mail, and criminal history.

You could also face loss of employment with the USPS and possible civil liability if the victim of the theft decides to pursue a lawsuit. Suppose you have been accused of mail theft under 18 U.S.C. 1709.  In that case, our federal criminal defense attorneys could use different strategies, as discussed below.  

Maybe we can argue that there was a lack of Intent. Recall that the federal prosecution must prove you had mail and intended to steal or embezzle it.

Maybe we can prove you mistakenly took the mail and returned it when the error was discovered. Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken Identity. You can contact us for a free case review by phone or via the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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