15 Sep 23

Preventing Conviction for Stealing Mail as a Postal Service Employee

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Last Updated on: 18th September 2023, 10:11 pm

Preventing Conviction for Stealing Mail as a Postal Service Employee

Stealing mail is a serious federal offense that can lead to fines, imprisonment, and loss of voting rights or ability to hold public office. However, there are steps postal service employees can take to avoid being convicted if accused of taking mail entrusted to them.

Understand the Laws

The main laws governing mail theft by USPS employees are 18 U.S. Code § 1709 and 18 U.S. Code § 1708. Section 1709 specifically prohibits officers or employees of the USPS from stealing, embezzling, or unlawfully taking mail entrusted to them. Section 1708 more broadly prohibits theft or receipt of stolen mail. Violations carry fines and up to 5 years imprisonment.

Avoid Temptation

Resist any urge to open, take, or tamper with mail in your possession. Even if you don’t intend to steal, actions like opening mail could lead to charges. Be mindful that mail may contain valuables, money, or personal information – do not let curiosity create legal jeopardy.

Don’t Abuse Access

Your job gives you special access to mail processing facilities and collection boxes. Be careful not to use this access to take mail unlawfully. For example, don’t take mail from collection boxes along your route. Avoid going through mail bundles looking for valuables. Don’t delay delivery to give yourself more opportunity to steal.

Handle Mail Carefully

Take steps to prevent loss or damage of mail in your possession:

  • Use USPS-approved storage and transportation methods.
  • Double check collection boxes are locked and secure.
  • Don’t leave mail unattended in publicly accessible areas.
  • Report any loss or tampering promptly.

Careful mail handling shows you take your duties seriously and aren’t looking for chances to steal.

Cooperate Fully if Questioned

If postal inspectors suspect you of mail theft, remain calm and cooperative. Be honest about any knowledge of or participation in taking mail. Admit errors in judgment but don’t speculate. Ask for legal counsel if needed. Lying or obstruction will only make you appear guilty.

Build a Record of Trustworthiness

Establish yourself as a responsible employee:

  • Maintain a clean employment record.
  • Follow USPS rules and procedures.
  • Don’t joke about taking mail.
  • Report suspicious behavior by coworkers.
  • Be helpful to colleagues and customers.

A solid history of conduct and performance makes accusations of mail theft less credible.

Don’t Panic Over Circumstantial Evidence

If questioned, there may be circumstances that initially seem suspicious, like:

  • You were last to handle missing mail.
  • A customer complains their mail didn’t arrive.
  • There are gaps in collection box pickup records.

However, circumstantial evidence alone may not be enough to convict. Calmly offer reasonable explanations rather than looking guilty.

Get Legal Help

If formally accused of mail theft, immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A legal professional can navigate the investigation process, evaluate the strength of the case, and build the best defense strategy. They may identify violations of due process or other ways charges could get dismissed.

Consider a Plea Bargain Carefully

Prosecutors may offer a plea deal to avoid trial. This may seem appealing to limit penalties, but it still results in a felony conviction. First discuss options thoroughly with your lawyer – fight the charges if you have a strong defense.

Request a Bench Trial

If going to trial, ask your lawyer about opting for a bench trial where a judge decides your guilt instead of a jury. A judge may better understand nuances of mail processing and be less swayed by circumstantial evidence.

Question Witness Credibility

Much of the evidence may rely on eyewitness testimony. However, studies show eyewitnesses are often mistaken. Use cross-examination to reveal:

  • Limits in a witness’s ability to observe.
  • Bias against you.
  • Inconsistencies in accounts.

Undermining witness credibility can create reasonable doubt.

Emphasize Lack of Direct Evidence

The prosecution’s burden is to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Stress in court that they lack direct evidence like video, fingerprints, caught in the act, etc. Argue their circumstantial case does not eliminate other reasonable explanations.

Highlight Your Good Character

Present evidence of your trustworthiness like work history, awards, and colleague testimony. The judge or jury may be reluctant to convict someone with an otherwise clean background.

Appeal Any Conviction

If convicted, your lawyer can likely identify appealable errors in legal procedure, evidence admission, jury instructions or other aspects of the trial. Appeal to have the conviction overturned before sentencing is imposed.

Request Leniency in Sentencing

If appeal fails, present mitigating factors to the judge when requesting a sentence, including:

  • Your positive work history and performance.
  • Supportive testimony from colleagues, supervisors, customers.
  • Lack of any prior criminal record.
  • Expression of remorse and willingness to make amends.
  • Mental health or personal issues leading to aberrant behavior.
  • Potential for rehabilitation if given a chance.

Also provide letters from friends, family, community members attesting to your good character. Highlight military service, volunteering, church involvement, or other social contributions. Explain the severe collateral consequences a harsh sentence would have on your life and family.

Emphasize you have already suffered major consequences simply from being accused and going through trial. Ask that any punishment not be disproportionate to the circumstances of the offense.

If given probation instead of prison, propose a plan to repay victims, receive counseling, do community service, or take other steps to make amends.

Presenting mitigating factors does not guarantee a lighter sentence, but it may persuade the judge to show some leniency.