42

Not that I would ever do this, but I'm curious: if I were to go into a stopped delivery truck and remove from it an item that is addressed to me, would this be a crime? If so what crime would it be?

It seems to me that I would not be stealing anything since it's my own property that I'm taking. I might even have a reason to suspect that if I did not take the package from the truck, then the driver would leave it sitting out in the open where it would likely be stolen (or that the driver himself might steal it), in which case I'd actually be preventing a crime by taking it from the truck directly.

I don't think this would be burglary either, since that would tend to require that I was breaking into a restricted area with the intent to commit a crime. Especially if the delivery truck had no doors or I acted while they'd been left open, then I wouldn't even be "breaking and entering."

I can't see this as being "trespass" if the truck was on a public street, unless trespass applies to the interior of vehicles. Even then, as long as I'd leave before anyone noticed me, I could just say I only went in to retrieve what's mine and prevent it from being damaged or stolen.

So I'm guessing there must be some kind of arcane laws that only the US Postal Marshalls deal with. Yes, there are special guys called "US Postal Marshalls," who investigate mail-related crimes. So I'm curious what crime this would be?

Note: I did review this post about "stealing your own property back" but it does not really seem to apply here.

  • 23
    Suppose, in an alternate universe, an unscrupulous copy of you does just this. The unscrupulous copy of you deems contents of the package so perfect that unscrupulous you wants another, for free. So unscrupulous you files a lost package report. While there are records of transfer all the way to the delivery truck, there is no record of delivery. Theft happens. The product is sent again, and now unscrupulous you has that second item, at no charge. This is theft. – David Hammen Oct 1 at 10:26
  • 2
    You have tagged your question with 'united-states', so the laws of Sweden are not applicable, but here it's a crime called 'egenmäktigt förfarande'. In English it seems to be called 'criminal conversion'. – md2perpe Oct 1 at 10:40
  • 3
    The problem is, you must enter someone else's vehicle to do it. That's illegal. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 1 at 22:44
  • 2
    They are the "Postal Inpection Service" not Postal Marshalls(sic) and they were recently in the news when they arrested Steve Bannon. – user662852 Oct 2 at 1:53
  • 2
    Even if not illegal, the fact that your actions would mean the parcel was missing (so could not be marked as delivered) means that the Postal Employee could face investigation or dismissal — so, it is morally wrong. Of course, the resulting false-accounting (i.e. the USPS believing that you have not received the parcel) might be sufficient for this to count as fraud. – Chronocidal Oct 2 at 16:03
81

Yes, it's illegal

You are missing something terribly important:

The package might not be your property [yet]. In any way, it is not in your possession, while it is in the hands of the postal service!

The contents of the package started fully owned by the sender and were entrusted to the postal service to deliver it. This entrustment is (contractually) defined as the time it is handed to the postal service, but the postal service does not gain any ownership. They do however have insurance on the parcel (to some degree), as they are liable for the loss of it. In many cases, the transfer of ownership happens upon delivery (for example, in the UK), so that you can't even be sure you own the contents while the box is still on the truck. At least in the eye of many postal services I know, it is the basic presumption, that they hold the item as entrusted. So to be on the safe side, it's best to presume that the package only becomes your package the moment you sign for the receipt of the package or it is dropped into your mailbox or at your dedicated dropoff point (you can specify that with many postal carriers btw). Otherwise, your actions might interfere with the contract of the mail service [to bring it to your door] and might incur liability upon them as their insurance presumes the parcel was lost and it has to be replaced. By the way, it is customary that any message of the parcel is damaged go to the sender, not the receiver so that in the case of commercial mail they can send/fund a replacement, as the sender needs to ensure that a non-defect item is delivered under their own contract with the recipient.

Criminal lawsuits

But, you want to know which specific law you'd be sued under 18 USC §1708 (2) not only for taking the box, but also for taking the item from the box (emphasis mine)!

Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or thing contained therein [...] Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The act of taking is relevant. It is irrelevant that you would receive the parcel later. You take it from the car on the delivery route. You also do trespass under whatever jurisdiction applies where the car is parked. For example, Criminal Trespass on Indian country is defined under 25.CFR § 11.411 (b). The rules in other jurisdictions are very similar: you are not allowed to enter the car, as it is clearly off-limits to the general public. The car is btw. supposed to be closed to prevent such, so you have to actually break property of the postal service (which is an extra charge to just the normal B&E).

(b) A person commits an offense if, knowing that he or she is not licensed or privileged to do so, he or she enters or remains in any place as to which notice against trespass is given by: (3) Fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders.

A car door, even if not locked and left ajar, is an enclosure manifestly designed to exclude intruders, and the inside of a car is "any place". So, in the correct jurisdiction, this statute of criminal trespass does apply. And as pointed out above, taking the mail without the driver knowing is illegal. In some fashion, taking your own mail is also a strange case of obstructing the correspondence, which specifically calls out that the parcel has to be given by the mailman to the recipient (emphasis mine).

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

If it is discovered by the driver while still on route, they will have to call the base and investigate the missing parcel, which takes time from the delivery, so might constitute retarding the passage of mail. If you break the lock to the car, you'd be charged as Injury to mail bags:

Whoever tears, cuts, or otherwise injures any mail bag, pouch, or other thing used or designed for use in the conveyance of the mail, or draws or breaks any staple or loosens any part of any lock, chain, or strap attached thereto, with intent to rob or steal any such mail, or to render the same insecure, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

A Postal car, especially with a lock on the door, is such a device. And if you somehow had the key to the car, you'd break 18 USC § 1704 instead. Plus, your taking does possibly incur monetary damages to the postal carrier, so civil charges for that money and expenses in investigating would also accrue against the taking person.

civil lawsuits?

If you'd take the parcel, you make the postal driver accountable for the loss of the parcel and the worth of the package, as the internal system of the postal service does recognize that they did not deliver the parcel, did not scan it out at the home base, but they did scan it onto their route. So unless they can point the finger at you or a known thief, they might need to admit that they did not lock the car or committed some other misconduct that allowed someone to steal the parcel. This can lead to the financial loss of the delivery driver or them being fired. Should the mail carrier or the postal service discover it was you, the mail carrier can now sue you for the injury the lost parcel meant to them as you interfered with their work contract. The tort is Tortious interference.

Then, the mail service can sue you for intentionally interfering with the delivery contract the service had with the one ordering the delivery done: they were required to bring the parcel to the target and got paid for that. Only your action of taking did prevent this. Would you not have taken the parcel, they would have delivered, so you interfered with their contract.


Life Advice:

Approach the driver, get out a photo-ID (Drivers license, passport, ID-card etc) and ask them something akin to this "The website told me you might have a parcel for me. Can you look? I am this person, and this ID proves I live at the target address, as indicated on this ID." With those credentials in hand, the postal driver can check and give it to you but isn't technically obligated to. But as it often means they can save a few valuable minutes getting to your house, they might, especially if you know your mail carrier and are friendly.

On the other hand, it's extremely unlikely for letter mail to be given this way, as searching for a parcel on a truck is much easier than looking for the letter mails in the bags.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    curious, if/how the theft issue changes if you were both sender and receiver? – Richie Frame Oct 2 at 0:39
  • 4
    @RichieFrame It doesn't. Who the sender is is totally irrelevant as long as the parcel is in custody of the mail-system. I vaguely remember a case of about 20 years ago when a mail delivery guy mailed stuff to himself, which he then personally delivered and declared stolen from the truck. From a legal standpoint he was 4 persons: sender, receiver, thief and postal employee, all in the same body. Only as receiver he wasn't charged. Besides the various theft and B/E charges as mentioned by Trish he also got slapped with insurance and postal fraud and violation of his employment contract. – Tonny Oct 2 at 11:59
  • 2
    @RichieFrame An analogy: you have a briefcase full of money. You pay Company A to look after it for a week, and give it back to you. Company A pay Guard B to keep it safe, and give it to you at the end of the week. You decide that you need the money, so take the briefcase while Guard B is giving someone else back their valuables. You do not tell Company A, or Guard B. Is that not a breach of contract? You may own the object, but you temporarily transferred legal custody to a third party and then seized/repossessed it without warrant. – Chronocidal Oct 2 at 16:10
  • 2
    +1 for "its not yet your property". this isn't just a technicality, the delivery person has several responsibilities they must perform while the package is under their control. – speciesUnknown Oct 3 at 13:41
  • 1
    As a side note, as someone who rode a UPS truck as a helper over the holidays a few years back, drivers may not be very receptive to just rummaging around for your package. They often have the boxes organized according to destination, and won't want to mess that up for your benefit, never mind that they're opening themselves up to potential issues if it turns out you are not the actual person at that address, and were working with a fake ID (at least if they meet you at the door, they delivered to that location). – Sean Duggan Oct 3 at 15:07
-3

I don't believe the concept of theft applies here especially if the seller has been paid in compensation acceptable to the sender for the goods to be received by the buyer. The point in question is you as the buyer and titler of the asset cannot enter into the vehicle of the postal truck as that is trespassing and is criminal especially if the vehicle is unattended. Also you run the risk of 3rd party damages from a tort perspective to the extent you enter into the vehicle, throw another pakcage not belonging to you onto the ground to get to yours and cause damage to that package and possibly the car itself, all of which you are liable for.

| improve this answer | |
  • Yes, the concept of theft would not really apply. No idea why you are getting so many downvotes - although the question did ask "what crime would apply" and you did cover that too. Strange. – fabspro Oct 2 at 13:53
  • 1
    @mathcompguy no? because the situation is much more complex and trespass is the absolute minimal thing that happens here: Trespass it's a petty misdemeanor (which can get no jail time) or at best a violation/Infraction – Trish Oct 2 at 15:07
  • Nothing is stated regarding the contractual terms on which the title of the asset is transferred. If consideration is received by the seller and per terms of contract the title of the asset is transferred to the buyer, then how is this theft? By way of set theory, if you can prove there exists an alpha not in a subset of theft then you can conclude with certainty that the potential set of crimes in this situation is not wholly enclosed in subset of theft. – mathcomp guy Oct 2 at 17:49
  • 2
    You're getting downvoted because you are asserting it is not theft without engaging in the details nor proffering any evidence. When you buy something for delivery when does title pass to you? If the vehicle is involved in a crash and is totally destroyed by fire, including the contents, would you still claim that parcel is yours?? – Alan Dev Oct 3 at 15:36
  • Whether or not I took my own property or no property from them, I'd agree entering someone's vehicle should be illegal. But I was more curious if taking my package while I was there would add or subtract from that crime, and if so why. – CommaToast Oct 5 at 2:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.