Jump to Navigation

It's not illegal to open someone else's mail in ignorance

You've probably heard that it's illegal to open a letter that was written to someone else, and this is true. In fact, it's a felony. This is all laid out in a federal statute called 18 USC Section 1702. It's been illegal in Ohio—and the rest of the United States—for years.

However, one of the key things that you should know is that you have to intend to open that person's mail for it to be a crime. If you're ignorant of what you're doing, you're not breaking the law. That means that the burden of proof would be on the prosecution to show that you did it intentionally.

For example, you could get six letters in the mail. The first five in the stack may actually be addressed to you. Since it's your home or business, you're already assuming the letters are for you, so you might not look very closely at what's written on the front of the envelopes. Instead, you'll just quickly start opening them, one by one.

If that sixth envelope is addressed to someone else, it would be easy to rip it open and start reading before you realize what you've done. When this happens, don't worry. You have not committed a federal crime.

The law is written this way because there's a very large difference between the situation described above and going out to your neighbor's mailbox to intentionally take his or her letters after they are dropped off. The penalties are not the same for both, as accidents do happen.

If you're accused of opening another person's mail, be sure you know where the burden of proof lies.

Source: The Law Dictionary, "What Is The Federal Law For Opening Mail Not Addressed To You?," J. Hirbyand, accessed April 15, 2016

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information

Contact Our Firm Today

THE GOLDBERG LAW FIRM
Lakeside Place
323 Lakeside Ave. West
Suite 450
Cleveland, OH 44113

Phone: 216-592-8719
Toll free: 800-845-4710
Fax: 216-781-6242
Map and Directions

Fair Fees. Credit Cards Accepted.

Visa MasterCard American Express Discover Network
Review Us
The Goldberg Law Firm

Over 24 Years Experience Representing Persons in Ohio and Nationwide

The Goldberg Law Firm serves the Cleveland, Ohio, metro area and Northeast Ohio, including Cleveland, Parma, Akron, Lorain, Elyria, Euclid, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Mentor, Strongsville, Berea, Broadview Heights, Brook Park, East Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Maple Heights, North Olmsted, North Royalton, Rocky River, Shaker Heights, Solon, Westlake, Painesville, Medina, Cuyahoga County, Summit County, Lorain County, Lake County and Medina County.

Privacy Policy | Business Development Solutions by FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business.