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Q: Is a husband allowed to open his wife's mail? ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Is a husband allowed to open his wife's mail?
Category: Family and Home
Asked by: executivehotline-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 08 Nov 2002 08:48 PST
Expires: 08 Dec 2002 08:48 PST
Question ID: 102758
A husband opened a letter that was specifically addressed to his wife
and saw something she very much wishes he had not seen. Is a husband
lawfully allowed to open his wife's mail? Does the wife have any legal
recourse?... The husband and wife live together and there is no talk
of separation or divorce... Presumably it would not make sense to
pursue any kind of financial award... what recourse might be available
to the wife? (e.g., Husband must cease and desist from opening her
mail)... I don't know the specifics of the situation, e.g., what was
in the envelope, what damage she sustained from him seeing it, or what
she wants now.
Subject: Re: Is a husband allowed to open his wife's mail?
Answered By: journalist-ga on 08 Nov 2002 09:53 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Greetings executivehotline.  This is certainly a distressing situation
and I have located the law which covers this matter.  In Section 1708
of the United States Code, Title 18:

"Theft or receipt of stolen mail matter generally

"Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception
obtains, or attempts so to obtain, from or out of any mail, post
office, or station thereof, letter box, mail receptacle, or any mail
route or other authorized depository for mail matter, or from a letter
or mail carrier, any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or
abstracts or removes from any such letter, package, bag, or mail, any
article or thing contained therein, or secretes, embezzles, or
destroys any such letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any
article or thing contained therein; or

"Whoever steals, takes, or abstracts, or by fraud or deception obtains
any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or
thing contained therein which has been left for collection upon or
adjacent to a collection box or other authorized depository of mail
matter; or

"Whoever buys, receives, or conceals, or unlawfully has in possession,
any letter, postal card, package, bag, or mail, or any article or
thing contained therein, which has been so stolen, taken, embezzled,
or abstracted, as herein described, knowing the same to have been
stolen, taken, embezzled, or abstracted --

"shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five
years, or both."

Section 1707 of the same title states;

"Theft of property used by Postal Service

"Whoever steals, purloins, or embezzles any property used by the
Postal Service, or appropriates any such property to his or her own or
any other than its proper use, or conveys away any such property to
the hindrance or detriment of the public service, shall be fined under
this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; but if
the value of such property does not exceed $1,000, they shall be fined
under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

This information is located at

After I reviewed the code, I then phoned the toll-free number for the
USPS found in my local phone directory (800-725-2161) and the
representative to which I spoke confirmed that these sections of the
code include persons who open mail other than their own.  If the mail
was addressed exclusively to her, then anyone else opening that piece
of mail is subject to federal prosecution, even if that person is a

Regarding the prosecution of such an offense, I would guess that a
witness would have to confirm that someone else opened her mail
otherwise it would simply be her word against her husband's word. 
Also, I would guess that if she had ever authorized her husband to
open any other pieces of her mail, or he had opened others and she had
never complained (bills, invoices, etc), that could be considered a
precedent in a legal case.  I suggest you confirm this detail with a
lawyer as I am, in no way, attempting to offer legal counsel, only
that there exists legal recourse for this situation if she wishes to
pursue it.

Should you need any clarification before rating my answer, please
request it and I will condct further research on the matter.


postal mail crime

Request for Answer Clarification by executivehotline-ga on 08 Nov 2002 12:29 PST
The comment posted after your answer is on target. The situation is
different once the mail is brought into the house. I called the USPS
customer service line and they referred me to my local postal
inspector's office. The p.i.'s office told me that if the husband and
wife live together, which they do, once the mail is brought into the
house (regardless of who brings it in), a letter addressed to the wife
becomes her personal property. There are two important implications to
this: (1) it is not joint property but personal property, and (2) it
is no longer mail - it has left the jurisdiction of the USPS. So if
the wife wanted to pursue the matter, she would need to do so through
the local police. Presumably, because they live together and spend
from the same pot, it would be silly to pursue any kind of financial
damages. I would think she might be able to get a cease and desist
order or some kind of injunction - I don't know what the right legal
term or instrument would be. Again, she would go through the local
police for that. This situation is sort of analogous to a teenager
stealing money out of his dad's sock drawer, and I'm sure the police
deal with that kind of thing all the time. The postal inspector said a
lot of times, the police won't want to pursue it, or will try to
dissuade the disgruntled party from doing so, or maybe they'll wait to
see if things cool off. Sometimes the police will try to kick it back
to the postal service but the postal service won't touch it because no
postal crime has been committed because the mail made it inside the
house. If you have information that would contradict this
interpretation, that would be helpful.

Also I have learned more about the situation since I posted the
question. It is not the wife but the husband who is asking about this.
The material in the envelope is incriminating against the wife and the
husband is worried that when he confronts the wife, she will try to
use it against him that he opened her mail, so he wants to know what
her legal options might be before he confronts his wife. I understand
you are not a lawyer, that you are not giving legal advice, and that
nothing you say is binding.

Clarification of Answer by journalist-ga on 08 Nov 2002 13:15 PST
It's interesting that we both received different information from USPS
as I gave them your explanation of what occurred, that the letter was
opened by someone other than the recipient.

I will continue research on this matter and see if a supervisor at
USPS can add more to what we both have discovered.  Are you able to
tell me what in which state this has occurred?  It would help me in
researching past cases of this nature (if they exist online)
pertaining to state laws and to help me make email queries.  Thanks
for any additional clarification on this matter.

Request for Answer Clarification by executivehotline-ga on 09 Nov 2002 05:12 PST
Location is in Pennsylvania.

Clarification of Answer by journalist-ga on 09 Nov 2002 20:18 PST
Greetings again and my apologies for reversing the genders in my
answer.  I have researched theft statutes in Pennsylvania after a
fellow researcher, expertlaw-ga, pointed me to a statute regarding
theft of moveable property.

Using the search phrase "pennsylvania theft related offenses" I
discovered "Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes - CRIMES AND OFFENSES
(TITLE 18)" (  Listed
under "Subchapter B. Definition Of Offenses" is a link to this text:

3921. Theft by unlawful taking or disposition.

(a) Movable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully
takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another
with intent to deprive him thereof.

(b) Immovable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully
transfers, or exercises unlawful control over, immovable property of
another or any interest therein with intent to benefit himself or
another not entitled thereto.

However, did he keep the letter or return it?  If she has the letter,
then it may not be theft of property.  I also executed a search for
"pennsylvania marital property law" and discovered the following at

"In general, all property acquired during the marriage is marital

Also, the same law is referenced at where
it reads "Marital property includes all property that was acquired
during the marriage, regardless of how it is titled (in whose name it

Whether or not this would apply to the reading of a letter as opposed
to bank accounts and such is only for attorney speculation. Also,
about midway down that same site is "What if it isn't clear what
category the property fits into? In the absence of an agreement
between parties, The court (judge) will decide what property is to be
considered marital property."

The above is in relation to division of property and may not apply to
a letter. It would seem to me from the laws that unless there was some
sort of pre-nuptial agreement that explicitly outlined prohibitation
of spousal mail reading, then what has occurred would be a breech of
unspoken ethics, not a breech of law.

If you wish further research in this area before rating my answer,
please request it and I will scout for more information although I was
not able to locate any court decisions in Pennsylvania related to a
matter such as this.
executivehotline-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Is a husband allowed to open his wife's mail?
From: mvguy-ga on 08 Nov 2002 11:16 PST
If you read the law carefully, you may notice it applies only to those
who improperly remove the mail from the mailbox.  It doesn't say what
happens if someone legally obtains possession of the mail but THEN
opens mail that isn't his.  Presumably, a husband has the legal right
to remove any family member's mail from the mailbox and bring it in
the home.  The real question, and it remains unanswered, is what legal
protection does the spouse have once the mail is inside the home. 
There may be some laws that apply in this case, but I don't think the
law quoted above is it.
Subject: Re: Is a husband allowed to open his wife's mail?
From: alexander-ga on 09 Nov 2002 02:20 PST
What state is this in? In community property states (California and a
few others that I don't know off the top of my head), property (which
presumably includes mail) received during the marriage is, well,
communal. Not sure if this applies here, but it's something to think

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