Mail Theft - California Penal Code PC 530.5e

Posted by Raoul Severo | Nov 05, 2020 | 0 Comments

On December 18, 2018, the world watched with anticipation and glee as Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer turned YouTube content creator, posted a video of him taking his sweet revenge against package thieves. Equipped with his engineering skill and burning passion to bring justice to himself, he built a glitter bomb to bait unsuspecting package thieves and film their reaction for the rest of the world to enjoy.

This revenge plot is entertaining, indeed, but let us not stray far from the deeper issue that is the dishonesty and selfish behaviors of other people. Package theft is an unfortunate reality for many people across the globe where hundreds if not thousands of valuable items end up in the hands of thieves. Now, this crime is already heavy and serious on its own. But imagine if instead of an item, your personal and private information is stolen from you instead. You can always replace stolen property, but you can never buy back your integrity.

In which case, that is exactly what happens in mail frauds. These papers can be filled with potentially valuable information, including:

  • Names;
  • Address;
  • Account numbers;
  • Financial data (i.e., credit card information, bank account details);
  • Contact number; and
  • Signature.

With these facts provided, virtually anyone can snoop on your postcards and steal your identity. Identity theft is a crime in and of itself, but when the act is done through mail, it is prosecutable specifically under California Penal Code PC 530.5e. This law states that an act can only be considered as mail theft if the following conditions are met:

  • The defendant has the intent to commit fraud or used fraudulent behavior to achieve that intent;
  • The defendant took mail from a mailbox, post office, letter carrier, or any other authorized to place or store mail;
  • The defendant opened and took out the contents of the mail, or destroyed or concealed the contents of the mail;
  •  The defendant actively knew about the illegal nature of obtaining the mail yet continued to participate in the act anyway.

Of course, like any other law, PC 530.5e has its exemptions. If you did not have specific intent to commit a fraud through the use of mails, you will not necessarily be convicted of mail fraud. We say “not necessarily” because there is still a chance you can be found guilty especially if you acted with reckless indifference, which is a conscious and reckless disregard of the consequences of one's actions and decisions. 


To be more precise, we gathered some examples of instances where mail theft is portrayed:

  • You were asked to deliver a letter to a friend by your roommate. Instead of doing so, however, you decide to read the letter and note down your roommate's details so you can disguise as him and commit crimes.
  • During a busy Sunday morning, a neighbor of yours thought that since most people were at church, he would take a look at people's mailboxes and see if he could find something valuable for himself. In this duration, he has illegally obtained private information from at least five people. For the next few days, he went on to ask people for money using the identities of his victims.
  • Your ex-spouse, who resents you very much, has been stealing your postcards, packages, and mails for years. One time, your current romantic partner sends you a letter, to which your ex-spouse reads. In spite, she keeps all of the letters and writes back to the sender while using your information.

Related Offenses

As you may have observed, a person can only be convicted under PC 530.5e if he/she uses the information included in a postcard/mail in an identity theft scheme. If there was no intent to steal your identity but fraud still occurred through the mail, it's often just mail fraud which is a federal crime. 

Meanwhile, other crimes may crossover with mail theft, such as:

Punishments for Mail Theft

Anyone who commits a mail theft is guilty of a misdemeanor offense, which means that the penalties are less harsher than that of a felony but greater than that of an infraction. They are as follows:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail, and/or
  • A fine not exceeding $1,000

Remember, the more crimes you commit, the greater the penalties. For instance, since mail theft is also a federal crime, you can also be held accountable by a federal court where a guilty sentence will result in a felony conviction.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You

The potential punishments of a mail theft allegation are very destructive as the crime is almost always never an individual offense, which means that you're more likely to face additional charges alongside the expected penalties listed above. If you're facing a mail theft lawsuit, don't give up just yet -- an aggressive criminal defense lawyer is often what you need. They will be able to come up with the best defense for your case and bring good deals to the table. Contact us now to find out how we can help.

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