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Opening someone else's mail may not be illegal

Perhaps one of the most common white collar crimes is simply opening another person's mail. It's the type of crime that can be committed by almost anyone, people often don't realize how serious it is, and, though the total amount of mail has fallen due to the Internet, there are still plenty of chances to do it.

Of course, you may have heard that it's illegal. It's not just a minor ticket, but a federal offense. There's a chance that you could go to jail for years if caught and convicted.

But, for all that, it may not be illegal in some situations. The key is intent.

If you take your neighbor's mail because you think there may be cash in the envelope, and you open it intentionally, that's a crime. You have prevented him or her from getting the unopened package and you have potentially committed theft if you were right about the money.

If you just grab the stack of letters that got dropped off in your box and tear them open one by one, without looking at them, don't panic if you then see that you opened one that was intended for another address. You just made an honest mistake and accidentally opened it, with no intent to break the law. That happens, and you haven't committed a felony.

Now, you are supposed to tell the U.S. Postal Service what happened. Don't just throw the letter away. If you do, you could still face charges for stopping the other person from getting the letter.

This is one of those white collar crimes that many people know about, but few people truly understand the legal ramifications and how the process works. It pays to be informed, so be sure you know your legal options if you're facing charges.

Source: FIndLaw, "Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else's Mail?," Brett Snider, accessed Oct. 28, 2016

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