Is throwing away someone else's mail a crime?

I’ve been living in this apartment for over a year, and during that time I’ve been dutifully writing “return to sender” on any mail addressed to the previous owner, like a good civilian should. Recently though, I’ve been saying “fuck it” and throwing away anything not addressed to me into the garbage bin. The way I figure, the prior tenant had a year to get their forwarding address worked out, and if they haven’t done so by now, it’s not my problem.

Now, I’m aware that it’s a felony to actually open someone else’s mail (not that I would ever do such a thing, no sir!) but is it also a crime to throw away mail that’s been mis-delivered to your own address?

(Don’t need answer fast…well, not today.)

Nitpick: Mail addressed to a previous owner at your address isn’t misdelivered but misaddressed. The error was on the part of the sender, not the post office. Misdelivered mail is when you, a resident of 123 Fake Street, get mail for 125 Fake Street or 123 Bake Street.

This distinction is important because:

I’m a little bit confused by the legalese in your link – does it mean that if someone else’s mail shares your exact address, you can do as you please with it?

It means some courts think so, and others don’t (in a very simplified way of looking at things)

I don’t know the law or postal regulations (of which there are enough to sink another Titanic), but I do believe that it also matters if the mail is first class or otherwise.

I’m in a similar situation. I don’t get all that much mail for prior tenants any more (after three years here), and most of what I do get is non-first-class mail. I just toss all that. I get far fewer first-class letters any more – those I still write “not at this address” and toss right back in the outgoing box.

Of those, many look important – I don’t know what the post office thinks they’re going to do with them, unless they just return to sender. And I don’t know what the sender is going to do about it. Many look like utility bills, collections notices, letters from City Hall, important stuff like that. Their problem, not mine.

It means some courts think that you aren’t stealing mail if you do as you please with it. I doubt that if, say, someone sends $50 to your address but someone else’s name, you’ll be totally in the clear if you keep it and get caught, although it might be a matter for the regular police and not the mail police.

Think I get it now…what you’re saying is, if the USPS properly delivers a letter that has my address but a different name, then the “Mail Police” don’t care what I do with it. (Maybe.)

As a practical matter, what’s my responsibility when it comes to receiving important letters meant for someone else? (Bank statements, DMV notices, legal forms that say “URGENT: OPEN IMMEDIATELY”, stuff like that.) The neighbors tell me that this apartment was actually vacant for almost a year before I moved in, but if the previous tenant should suddenly materialize and demand her mail, could I potentially be held liable if I told her sorry, I threw everything away?

The US seems to have very strict laws regarding mail. Do they really have mail police?
Is it true you can’t put none mail items in the mail box? What happens if you accidentally open a letter because you didn’t notice it was misdirected? This happened to me last week. I just sealed it with tape and wrote “opened in error” and dropped it in the mail box. If I lived in the US would the Mail police be on my back over that?

It’s officially called the postal inspection service (although the front-line officers, like the ones you might see patrolling a huge sorting facility, do have cars that say “postal police”), but yes, there’s a special law enforcement agency dedicated to investigating crimes involving the postal system.

This is probably more a symptom of our fragmented policing system than anything else. Lots of federal agencies have their own police. We have all kinds of special police departments you don’t see in other countries (like the Cathedral Police in Washington DC).

Yes. Only stamped mail may be put in mailboxes. I believe that technically you can put a stamp on something, cancel the stamp, and then put that in a mailbox yourself, but I’m not sure.

No. They get involved in serious crimes like mail theft rings that steal people’s identities. The same things that police in every country handle, just with their paychecks coming from the post office instead of some general police budget.

Isn’t it true that if a mailman is the victim of crime while on duty, the postal inspectors will investigate?

My USPS supervisor husband says they get involved in any crimes related to the mail and the public, so crimes against letter carriers on duty would at least involve them. Any internal mail-related crimes (hiding mail, etc.) is generally the domain of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

During the Cold War, it was illegal for a US stamp collector to have a Castro-era Cuban stamp, mint or used, in his collection. A violation of a series of slightly reworded laws that courts keep striking down but Jesse Helms kept reenacting. There were a couple of other countries whose stamps were also banned, including Rhodesia. However, according to international UPU treaties, the USPS was still required to deliver any pre-paid letters originating in Cuba addressed to the USA, and there were many, from relatives of refugees. So, the post office, was knowingly and with forethought an accomplice to the crime of one’s possession of contraband.

My mailman told me that a citizen’s legal responsibility would be to either immediately destroy such a stamp, or take it to the post office, where a postal official would see to it that it received a proper and well-deserved burial.

I found all this out because I had a letter from Cuba misaddressed to me and delivered to my mailbox, and I was a stamp collector at the time and I knew of the well-known ban.

I have a cousin who intercepted a letter meant for his mother, and threw it in the trash. (I had brought the mail in and put it in four piles: My Mom’s, his mother’s, his mail, my mail.) I had seen the envelope he discarded, complete with first class stamp; he told me it was “just an ad.” I knew better: It was from his school and schools can’t afford to send “ads” of any kind, let alone with first-class postage.
So retrieved it and, when his mother got home, I gave it to her. It was about him, of course, and I waited for the fireworks. He’s lucky only she got after him about it.

Maureen, whom I have mentioned many times on this message board, has had a problem with her daughter Adelaide, now in her late 50s, throwing away her (Maureen’s) mail, along with anything else she doesn’t want. I keep telling Maureen she should sic the postal inspectors on her daughter (she has had plenty other beefs with her); I’m sure that the younger woman is risking a prison term by doing this.

So you’re wondering if you’re legally obligated to operate a free mail-drop service for every Tom, Dick and Harriet who ever lived at your address? Even the post office won’t do that. I know that after a certain period of time they stop forwarding mail, but there’s no way in hell that they’re just going to hold it somewhere forever until Tom, Dick or Harriet decides to swing by and pick it up.

Look: They KNOW that neither Tom, Dick nor Harriet lives there now. They just deliver it because they don’t want to deal with it, (and of course they’re obligated to do so). Effectively they’re passing the buck to you. Meanwhile neither Tom, Dick nor Harriet has bothered to inform those senders of important matters of their new address, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, those senders could easily find out the new address, because if Pottery Barn can track me down after I’ve moved five times (and tried to evade them) to send me their friggin’ catalog (from which I’ve never ordered a thing in my life), then those important senders could do so as well.

So–as a practical matter–because the law specifically says it’s a crime if it’s done with “design to obstruct the correspondence,” should this come down to prosecution, you could show that the mail is undeliverable anyway. By definition and circumstance. In any case, I think you’re still legally expected to put a diagonal line across the face of the letter, and put it back in the box. (Block out the bar code, too.)

Yeah, like everyone else has said so far, to hell with that music. Into the trash it all goes from now on. :cool:

How ironic, I recently was in that situation with my former brother/ex-roommate. I’d purchased a CD from eBay but forgot to update my address, and when I called him about it, Mr. Trust Fund King Of The World was in a particularly snotty mood and threatened to break it in half. Conversation got ugly, I threatened to call his mother (or invoke the “nuclear option” as I call it, because she treats me like Satan these days, but I’m not afraid of her) and apparently he must have called her first and was commanded to man the fuck up, because he meekly hand-delivered the CD a few days later.

Though I guess, based on what I’ve learned in this thread, had that situation gone to the mattresses, at least the Mail Police wouldn’t have intervened. (The real police, on the other hand…)

I would have delivered him up to them on a silver platter!

You don’t want to mess with the Mail Police.

I started a thread two years ago discussing how I was handling my gf’s ex’s mail. My technique involved notifying the sender that he was deceased. It has decreased his mail considerably, although the local Catholic Church continues to send him bundles of envelopes:confused:…

It appears from this discussion that Americans owning Cuban stamps was/is fine - importing or selling them in large quantities was not.

So, if Columbia decided that their offical postage was now small baggie of crack cocaine with an official seal on it, stamped onto an envelope, theoretically the U.S. post office would have to deliver it to your door. Upon taking the letter out of the mailbox you’d now be a felon, and it would behoove you to dispose of the postage as rapidly as possible.