Mail tampering refers to the willful theft, destruction or opening of the mail of another person without their consent. Because mail delivery is the duty of the U.S. Postal Service, mail tampering laws are federal laws, and mail tampering is considered a federal offense. The penalties for mail tampering can be quite high, both in terms of prison sentences and fines.
Scope of Activities
Mail tampering covers a wide range of activities. Mail tampering can occur when someone steals the mail of another, when someone fraudulently obtains the mail of another, when someone alters the mail of another, when someone opens the mail of another or when someone destroys the mail of another. Even obstructing or delaying the delivery of mail can constitute mail tampering. Essentially, any significant interference with another person's mail is considered mail tampering.
Scope of Location
The locations in which mail tampering can be considered to have occurred are also quite broad. Mail tampering can occur where someone has placed mail to be collected by the Postal Service, where mail has been delivered, and a variety of places in between, including a postal worker's mail bag or truck or a U.S. post office box.
Under federal law, mail tampering carries a potential prison sentence. A prison sentence is not mandatory, and whether or not an individual found guilty of mail tampering is sentenced to prison and the length of that sentence likely will depend on case-specific circumstances. The maximum sentence for mail tampering is five years in a federal prison.
In addition to a prison sentence, people found guilty of tampering with mail also may be subject to a fine. Alternatively, someone found guilty of mail tampering might be given a fine only and no prison sentence. Under the current federal sentencing guidelines, mail tampering can subject a guilty individual to a fine of up to $5,000.