Hitting mailboxes with a baseball bat, setting off a pipe bomb or deliberately striking a mailbox with a car may seem like "sport" to some people, but it's a crime that doesn't pay off. Mailboxes are protected by federal law and tampering with them can lead to some serious criminal penalties.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
It is a federal offense to vandalize a mailbox, punishable by a fine up to $250,000 and three years in a federal prison.
Acts That Constitute Mailbox Vandalism
Anything that damages, harms or defaces a mailbox or its contents could potentially be considered mailbox vandalism. Examples of vandalism include:
- knocking over the mailbox
- scratching or denting the mailbox
- breaking the mailbox open
- setting off firecrackers or pipe bombs near the mailbox
- putting anything into the mailbox that damages the items inside
Since a mailbox is considered federal property even if you own it, vandalizing a mailbox is a federal crime. If you're found guilty, you're looking at fines up to $250,000 and three years' incarceration in a federal corrections facility.
Graffiti Is an Act of Vandalism
Most counties and cities treat graffiti as a low-level nuisance crime, punishable by fines in the region of $400 to $1,000. But when it comes to defacing a mailbox, graffiti is treated as far more than mere property damage. Maliciously defacing a mailbox is classified as mailbox tampering, and each act carries a federal court citation. As well as facing up to three years behind bars, you could also be liable to heavy fines up to $250,000, increasing in price as the severity of the vandalism rises.
Citizens should report an act of mailbox vandalism to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service using the agency's online vandalism complaint form. The post office has a law enforcement and security arm that deals with such cases. It's also a good idea to call the local police. Law enforcement can investigate to determine if the vandalism was an isolated incident or part of a pattern of misbehavior in your area. If it's your mailbox that's been damaged, the police can give you a report to use to get insurance reimbursement if necessary.
Don't Be a Victim
The United States Postal Service publishes an adhesive-backed label, known as Label 33, which you can get for free from your local post office. The sticker describes the criminal penalties for tampering with a mailbox. It serves as a deterrent to mailbox vandalism. If your mailbox is repeatedly vandalized, it may be worth investing in a reinforced mailbox. These mailboxes cost more, but they are specially designed to withstand acts of attempted destruction.
- Cornell Legal Information Institute: 18 U.S. Code § 1705, Destruction of Letter Boxes or Mail
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service: Protecting Yourself From Mailbox Vandalism
- Criminal Defense Lawyer: Caught Spraying Graffiti: What Are the Criminal Consequences?
- U.S. Postal Service: Label 33
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service: Vandalism Complaint
- mailbox image by Pix by Marti from Fotolia.com