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How does the law treat community mailboxes?

You have likely seen examples in film or other popular media of kids destroying mailboxes for fun. While such images do typically represent delinquent behavior, few would likely the seriousness with which the destruction of mailboxes is treated by authorities. Indeed, the fact that vandalizing or destroying mailboxes is a federal crime has been detailed on this blog before. Recent years, however, have seen individual mailboxes become less common as communities are adopting the practice long utilized in apartment buildings of utilizing a community mail receptacle. These units make it easier for postal carriers to complete their rounds, and are built to be more secure than a standard mail box. Yet that added security does not necessarily mean they are immune from vandalism and theft. 

One might even argue that the fact that since you do not consistently have your eyes on your community mail receptacle, it is more vulnerable to abuse. That individual boxes require keys also means that more damaging effort is needed to open them. As is the case with individual mailboxes, it is also a federal crime to tamper with a community mailbox in any way. 

Yet what if it is you trying to get in to your community mailbox, yet you have lost your key? Section 18.1704 of the United States Code says that it is illegal to take another's key (or create a copy of your own) in order to gain access to a community mail receptacle. Again, however, the issue here is intent. If your intent is malicious or unlawful (e.g., wanting to read your neighbors' mail), then you may be charged with a crime. Simply trying to find an alterative way to get your own mail, however, may not meet the standard of criminal activity. 

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