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.
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.