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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 22, 2017 | 0 Comments

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

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 that 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. Before attending law school, I worked for a law firm focused on record clearing services, including expungements, pardons, and motions for appropriate relief.  The vast experience and understanding of North Carolina's expungement laws that I have acquired has given me an advantage in defending criminal charges, because not only do I fight for the best possible outcome in your case, but I am also continually conscious of the long term effects that a criminal charge or conviction can have on a person's life.  As such, I will do whatever I can to insure that my clients will not end up with a criminal record.  I was born in New London, Connecticut, but spent the first few years of my life in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Rutherfordton, North Carolina in 2001.  Upon graduating from high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I majored in Accounting.  Eager to finish school, I began law school at Charlotte School of Law the day of my graduation from GWU, and completed my law degree in two years (instead of the typical three). During law school, I studied hard and strived to acquire the most experience possible so that I would be practice ready upon graduation.  The opportunities I gained included prosecuting criminal defendants through an externship with the Burke County District Attorney's Office, defending criminal defendants through Charlotte School of Law's Criminal Justice Clinic, and interning with Farmer & Morris, PLLC. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, Gabrielle Valentine, who is an attorney at Farmer & Morris, PLLC, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.  In my free time, I enjoy helping with the youth group in my church, playing basketball and softball in our local church leagues, serving in the prison ministry, and spending time with my family.  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


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