Mailing Threats

18 U.S. Code § 876 - Mailing Threatening Communications

The crime of blackmail is also commonly known as extortion, which is threatening to do something or disclose something that will, in some way, harm the potential victim of the threat.

Typically, the threat of potential harm is made to obtain something of value, whether it is money or another type of benefit. Thus, Title 18 U.S. Code 876 is the federal statute that makes mailing threatening communications a crime.

18 U.S. Code § 876 - Mailing Threatening Communications
it's a federal offenses to mail threatening communications related to blackmail or extortion.

Simply put, you could be charged with a federal offense by using the United States Postal Service to issue a threat. This crime is generally described as mailing or shipping any communication containing threats to injure someone else.

It's illegal under federal laws to use threats or extortion to compel somebody to provide you with benefits or behave in a certain way toward you.

18 U.S.C. 876 says, “(a) Whoever knowingly deposits in any post office or authorized depository for mail matter, to be sent or delivered by the Postal Service or knowingly causes to be delivered by the Postal Service according to the direction thereon, any communication, with or without a name or designating mark subscribed to it, addressed to any other person, and containing any demand or request for ransom or reward for the release of any kidnapped person, shall be….”

Federal prosecutors have almost unlimited resources for a criminal investigation to build a case against someone.  If convicted under this statute, you will face harsh penalties. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.

What is Mailing Threatening Communications?

Under Title 18 U.S.C. 876, there are different ways to use the mail to make threats to someone where it would be considered a federal offense, including the following:

  • Use of the mail to send a ransom demand for a kidnapped victim;
  • Use of the mail to threaten to kidnap or harm somebody;
  • Use of the mail for attempted extortion to get something from somebody under a threat of kidnapping or injury;
  • Use of the mail to extort or blackmail somebody, such as threatening to damage their reputation or property.

Notably, it does not matter if the intended victim receives the communication; instead, only that the mail was used to send it. It is a federal offense when the following factors apply:

  • It's a letter or package addressed to another person;
  • It contains a threat, as discussed above; and
  • It is deposited into the mail system intending to be delivered.

A threat crime through the mail could be prosecuted for violating federal law under Title 18, U.S. Code 873 blackmail.

What Makes a Threatening Letter a Federal Crime?

Most states, including California, have laws against sending extortion by threatening letters, such as Penal Code 523 PC, described as sending any written communication to cause injury or to release damaging information.

What Makes a Threatening Letter a Federal Crime?
Most cases of federal mailing threatening communications will involve the crossing of state lines.

So, what would make mailing a threatening letter a federal crime instead of prosecution in a local state court?

The most common extortion or threat the United States Attorney's Office prosecutes will involve interstate communications by wire transmissions, such as email or text that cross state lines or international borders.

While most would now involve a “wire” transmission and prosecuted 18 U.S.C. 1343 wire fraud statute, some threats are still mailed through the mail system.

Further, the threat must be actual, and the potential harm could be economic. The "damage” could be to their reputation or any information that could negatively impact their business. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Postal Inspectors, and the United States Homeland Security will typically investigate valid complaints of threats or extortion.

What Are the Related Federal Statutes?

  • 18 U.S.C. 871 – threats against the President and successors;
  • 18 U.S.C. 872 – extortion by employees of the United States;
  • 18 U.S.C. 873 – blackmail;
  • 18 U.S.C. 874 – kickbacks from public works employees;
  • 18 U.S.C. 875 – interstate communications;
  • 18 U.S.C. 877 – mail threatening communication from a foreign country;
  • 18 U.S.C. 878 – threats and extortion against foreign officials;
  • 18 U.S.C. 879 – threats against former presidents and certain people;
  • 18 U.S.C. 880 – receiving the proceeds of extortion.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1201 – kidnapping is defined as seizing, abducting, or restraining someone for ransom or reward and is often charged at the federal level when state or international boundaries are crossed.
  • 18 U.S.C. 1202 - ransom money is receiving or possessing money or property given as a ransom for a kidnapping victim or knowingly transmitting ransom money on behalf of another person;
  • 18 U.S.C. 875 - interstate communications law uses interstate or foreign commerce to communicate a demand for ransom, kidnap threats, or attempt blackmail or extortion.

What are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 876?

Suppose you are convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 876 by mailing threatening communications. In that case, you will face fines and prison time described under the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Sentencing calculations will depend on the base level of the guideline and other possible enhancements for factors dealing with the severity level, such as the following:

  • If the letter had threats of kidnapping or injury or was an attempt to extort or blackmail someone without a threat of physical harm, then the maximum penalty is five years in federal prison;
  • If the letter was sent to a federal judge or other federal official, then the penalty is increased to up to 10 years;
  • If the letter was a ransom demand or attempted extortion under a threat of kidnapping or harm, the penalty is up to 20 years in federal prison.

What are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 876?

As discussed below, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies if you have been accused of mailing threatening communications.

Defenses for Mailing Threatening Communications
Contact criminal law firm for legal guidance.

Maybe we can argue that you didn't intend the mail item to be sent or received. Perhaps we can say it was incorrectly addressed.

Maybe we can argue that you did not know the contents. Federal prosecutors must prove you knowingly mailed the threat to obtain a conviction.

Maybe we can show that you sent the letter on behalf of another person. Simply put, if we prove you were unaware of the threat in the letter, you can avoid a conviction.

Perhaps the content in the letter was intended to be sarcastic, not an actual or credible threat, and it should not have been taken seriously.  Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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