Did You Get a Holiday Package Delivered by Mistake? If You Keep It, You May Have Committed Larceny in North Carolina

Posted by Josh Valentine | Dec 20, 2018

You come home from work and find a package on your doorstep. Then you realize that it isn't addressed to you. It's addressed to your neighbor down the street, and it was delivered to your house by mistake.

What do you do? Can you keep a mis-delivered holiday package? In North Carolina, the answer is no in most situations. You are obliged to try to return the package to its rightful owner.

If you keep the package, you may have committed the crime of larceny. Depending on the circumstances, larceny can be either a misdemeanor or a felony in North Carolina.

Definition of Larceny in North Carolina

Larceny is a fancy way of saying "theft." In North Carolina, the crime of larceny includes the following elements:

  • taking the property of another;
  • carrying it away;
  • without the owner's consent; and
  • with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his or her property.

If someone takes a holiday package off a neighbor's doorstep, it seems pretty clear that they may have committed larceny: they took the property of another and carried it away. And they did so without the owner's consent and with the intention to deprive the owner of his or her property.

But keeping a holiday package that is addressed to someone else may also meet the same definition of larceny under North Carolina law.

Larceny of Lost or Misplaced Property

If you look at the elements that define the crime of larceny, keeping a holiday package that was accidentally delivered to you can easily be considered larceny.

If the package was addressed to someone else, the package is someone else's property. If you don't make an effort to return the package or contact the owner, you have likely "carried away" the owner's property without his or her consent and with the intent to deprive the owner of the holiday package.

In fact, North Carolina courts have repeatedly found that taking lost or misplaced property can constitute larceny, when the true owner's identity is known.

In a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision, the Court reiterated that:

…[w]hen an individual possesses property with the knowledge of its true owner, and exercises dominion and control over the property for his or her own purposes, thus trespassing on the true owner's property rights, that individual has committed larceny.

(See State of North Carolina v. Keyshawn Jones.)

As an aside, one of the concurring Justices in the Jones decision also analyzes the Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, through the lens of North Carolina's larceny laws. It's rather festive, as Court decisions go.

Penalties for Larceny in North Carolina

North Carolina larceny penalties are frequently based on the value of the stolen property. For example:

  • If you keep a mis-delivered holiday package that has a value of less than $1,000, you could face a Class 1 Misdemeanor charge. A Class 1 Misdemeanor conviction has potential penalties of up to 60 days in prison and a $1,000 fine.
  • If the package was worth more than $1,000, you could face far more severe felony charges.

So, if you receive someone else's holiday package, try to return it. Contact the intended recipient, if you can, or attempt to return the package to the sender.

Not only will this help you avoid any possible legal entanglements, your good deed will also add a little more holiday cheer to the season.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar