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b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_1481921432.jpgIs it a federal crime to open someone else’s mail? The short answer is “yes.” Opening or destroying mail that is addressed to someone else is a crime called “Obstruction of Correspondence.” It is a serious felony that could lead to prison time. It is remarkably easy to find yourself charged with this crime, even if you didn’t mean to do anything wrong. Maybe you got curious and opened a letter addressed to your roommate, or a letter meant for your neighbor landed in your mailbox and you ripped it open without looking. The good news is that an experienced federal crime attorney can help you, and depending on the circumstances, possibly even have your charges dismissed. If you find yourself charged with any federal mail crime, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. 

What if I Opened Someone’s Mail by Accident? 

If it was an accident, that does not fit the definition of Obstruction of Correspondence. Intent is an important element that the prosecution has to prove in order to get a conviction. It doesn’t count as a crime if you reasonably thought the mail you opened belonged to you. This commonly happens when mail arrives addressed to a previous tenant or someone else who no longer lives in your residence, like a former roommate. Sometimes mail is addressed incorrectly- perhaps the sender wrote the wrong apartment number on an envelope and your neighbor’s mail is delivered to you in error. In any case, you still need a qualified defense attorney to help you prove your lack of intent if you’ve been charged. 

What Should I Do if I Receive Mail Addressed to Another Person? 

It is a federal crime to destroy mail that isn’t yours. While it may be tempting to simply toss an envelope addressed to a previous tenant or someone else in the trash, do not do this. Absolutely do not open it. Even if your intentions are good, or you know the person the mail is addressed to, opening and reading another person’s mail is a felony. You have two legal options- either deliver the mail unopened to the correct addressee yourself or write something like “addressee does not live here” on the envelope and put it in your outgoing mail. Destroying it could carry serious penalties, including up to five years imprisonment or large fines. 

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Posted by on in Criminal Defense

Chicago IL criminal defense attorneyWhen you have been charged with a crime and your case is set for trial, you and your attorney will need to decide if you are going to testify on your own behalf. This decision will need to take into account a variety of ethical and strategic considerations, including the nature and severity of the crimes for which you have been charged. Deciding to testify in a murder trial, for example, is much different from deciding to testify in a trial for theft or burglary. As you and your lawyer approach this decision, it is critical to understand how the choice can affect your case.

Constitutional Rights and Protections for Criminal Defendants

As a criminal defendant, you have the right to due process of law as promised by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You also have the right to face your accusers under the Sixth Amendment. Taken together, these rights have been interpreted in case law as giving you the right to testify in any criminal proceeding against you. Nobody involved in the case can keep you from testifying if you wish to do so, including the judge, the prosecutor, or even your own attorney.

It is also your right not to testify during your criminal trial. This right does not exist in other types of proceedings. For example, you can be required to testify in a civil trial, and failing to comply could lead to sanctions or a finding of contempt. However, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that you cannot be forced to incriminate yourself, which means that you cannot be compelled to testify when you are the defendant in a criminal case.

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Chicago IL criminal defense attorneyRoutine traffic stops for minor violations, like driving with a faulty tail light, failing to properly signal a turn, or exceeding the posted speed limit, are common occurrences, and in most cases they result in a ticket and fine, or even just a warning. However, sometimes what starts as a routine traffic stop can result in much more serious criminal charges, including for driving under the influence (DUI) or illegal possession of drugs, weapons, or stolen property. If you are stopped by a law enforcement officer, it is important that you understand your rights.

Common Misconceptions About Traffic Stops

Many people believe that they are required to answer an officer’s every question and consent to their every request during a traffic stop. A person’s natural instinct may be to cooperate, and they may even hope that the officer will let them off with just a warning because they were so polite. The reality, however, is that anything you say to the police officer could become evidence used against you later in court. In addition, your statements could give the officer probable cause to arrest you for a more serious offense, or to search your vehicle.

You Cannot Be Forced to Incriminate Yourself

You should never lie to a police officer, of course, and you are required to provide certain information, such as that which is on your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of auto insurance. This information generally includes things like your name, address, age, and date of birth. However, you are under no obligation to provide the officer with any additional information. If an officer asks you a question that could be incriminating, such as, “Have you been drinking tonight?” you have the right to politely respond with something to the effect of, “I prefer not to answer any questions without the advice of an attorney.”

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Illionois defense attorney,  Illinois criminal defense lawyerDuring a federal criminal trial, prosecutors have to prove a number of elements in their case. One of those elements is the legal concept of ‘mens rea’ or criminal intent. This is true in most cases, although there are certain cases that rest on strict liability and do not include the requirement of intent. Not only must the prosecution prove intent, but there are also four different levels of intent they must prove. The level they must prove will depend on the statute involved in the case. Below, those four levels of intent are examined more closely.

The Accused Acted Knowingly

There are many criminal statutes that only require the prosecution to prove the defendant acted knowingly. This means that the defendant simply knew what they were doing. The prosecution does not have to prove that the defendant knew what they were doing was against the law. For example, 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(b) states that it is illegal to intimidate or threaten a person that could be a witness for the federal prosecution. If the prosecution can prove a person knowingly did this, they do not have to also prove the defendant knew it was illegal.

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Posted by on in Criminal Defense

product-tamperingEarlier this month, a young woman was filmed licking a tub of ice cream in a Lufkin, Texas Walmart before returning it to the freezer. Law enforcement officials were notified, and the girl has now been identified as a 17-year-old girl. Due to her age, she has been transferred to the juvenile justice system. That is a good thing. If tried as an adult, she would have faced federal charges of tampering with a consumer product. That is a charge that has a potential sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Tampering with a Consumer Product

Many people do not realize that tampering with a consumer product is against the law. It is certainly not a federal crime that regularly makes the news. However, while some may think tampering with a product is an innocent prank, federal agencies see it quite differently.

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