Mailbox Vandalism Laws

By Ralph Heibutzki
A non-aluminum mailbox is considered the safest protection method.
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To a youthful offender, vandalizing a mailbox may feel like a harmless rite of passage. If he happens to get caught, however, he could face local jail time, fines and community service. However, this could well be just the start of his troubles. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service treats mailbox vandalism as a federal offense, which can carry six-figure fines and possible prison time.

Local Penalties

Rural areas tend to experience greater vandalism problems.
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Willfully or maliciously destroying property, such as a mailbox, without the owner's consent is the essence of how states and local communities legally define vandalism. Baseline punishments start with fines, and mandatory community service. Offenses can also be elevated to felonies, depending on the severity and amount of property damage involved.

Penalty Enhancement

Seeking ways to control property damage crimes, some states have added enhanced penalties against offenders. In 1998, for example, California passed a new law that criminalized vandalism stemming from a person's color, race, religion or sexual orientation, among other factors. In such cases, offenses can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. (See Reference 3)

Federal Consequences

Destroying mailboxes can have serious federal consequences. Title 18, Section 1705 of the United States Code makes it a federal crime to vandalize mailboxes, as well as injuring, destroying or defacing any mail that's placed in them. Each act of vandalism carries maximum penalties of up to $250,000 in fines and up to three years in prison.

Federal Responses

To report an act of mailbox vandalism, you must complete a PS Form 2016, also known as a "Mail Theft And Vandalism Complaint." Upon reviweing your complaint, the Postal Inspection Service may attempt to determine if this was an isolated incident, or part of a pattern of such misdeeds in your jurisdiction. Rural areas report more problems than city ones, because mailboxes are often placed far from their owner's sight.

Collateral Consequences

Conviction for a federal crime such as mailbox vandalism also carries many negative collateral consequences--especially when the act is deemed by the court to be a felony. Offenders can lose their right to vote, carry firearms, serve on juries or hold public office. In most cases, convicted felons cannot seek state licenses, nor bid on government contracts. Federal regulatory agencies may also bar convicted felons from employment, as well.

About the Author

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.