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Is it a Federal Crime to Open Someone Else’s Mail? 

Posted by Posted on in Criminal Defense

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. 

When Should I Contact a Chicago Federal Crimes Attorney? 

If you have been charged with any federal mail crime, contact a qualified Chicago Federal Crimes Attorney for help defending yourself against the criminal charges. Any federal criminal charge is an extremely serious matter. Contact the Law Offices of Hal. M. Garfinkel online or call us at 312-629-0669  for a free consultation today. We will fight for the best possible outcome for you. 



Sources:

https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title18/part1/chapter83&edition=prelim

https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-is-the-federal-law-for-opening-mail-not-addressed-to-you/

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