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Mail Injurious Articles

18 U.S. Code § 1716 - Mailing Injurious Articles as Nonmailable

The United States mail system has served a vital purpose for Americans since the earliest days of our nation. However, when this system is abused by the mailing of hazardous or dangerous items, it is capable of causing extensive harm to citizens and postal workers alike.

For this reason, under Title 18 U.S.C. 1716, sending "injurious articles" through the U.S. Mail is a federal crime, and violations can result in severe penalties. If anyone is killed due to a nonmailable item in the mail, the defendant could even be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.

Mailing Injurious Articles as Nonmailable - 18 U.S. Code § 1716
It's a federal offense to send injurious articles through the United States mail system.

18 U.S.C. 1716 says, “(a) All kinds of poison, and all articles containing poison, and all poisonous animals, insects, reptiles, and all explosives, hazardous materials, inflammable materials, infernal machines, and mechanical, chemical, or other devices which may ignite or explode, and all disease germs or scabs, and other articles, compositions, or material which may kill or injure another, or injure the mails, whether or not sealed as first-class matter, are nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or station thereof, nor by any officer or employee of the Postal Service.”

Subsection (b) explains that the Postal Service may permit the transmission in the mail under rules and regulations as to the preparation and packing of such articles that are not dangerous or injurious to life, health, or property. 

Simply put, Title 18 U.S. Code 1716 prohibits mailing items designated as "injurious articles." This law protects the safety and well-being of postal workers, recipients, and the general public by ensuring that dangerous items are not circulated through the mail system. Let's review this law in more detail below.

What Items Are Considered Injurious Articles?

Examples of nonmailable injurious articles items under 18 U.S.C. 1716 include, but are not limited to:

  • Explosives (e.g., dynamite, fireworks, blasting caps);
  • Poisons (e.g., cyanide, arsenic, toxic pesticides);
  • Poisonous drugs and medicines;
  • Dangerous chemicals (e.g., acids, flammable solvents, corrosive substances);
  • Certain types of knives, such as ballistic knives;
  • All spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors;
  • Infectious substances (e.g., viruses, bacteria, biological samples);
  • Radioactive materials (e.g., specific medical isotopes, industrial sources);
  • Compressed gases (e.g., propane, oxygen, aerosol cans with flammable contents);
  • Flammable liquids (e.g., gasoline, alcohol, paint thinner);
  • Controlled substances and illegal drugs (e.g., narcotics, marijuana, methamphetamine);
  • Venomous animals, insects, live scorpions, or reptiles

Note that 18 U.S.C. 1716 does not cover all nonmailable items, but only those designated in this section as "injurious articles." Other laws pertaining to the Postal Service prohibit mailing certain items such as firearms, tobacco products, dangerous animals, etc.

What Are the Exceptions to the Rule?

18 U.S.C. 1716 does allow specific exceptions that would enable certain nonmailable items to be mailed if packaged and shipped according to USPS guidelines. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Live scorpions when used for medical research or the development of antivenom;
  • Poisons for the scientific use of small quantities of poisons may be sent through the mail when intended for scientific purposes, such as medical or pharmaceutical research. The manufacturer must adequately label, package, and send these shipments to authorized researchers;
  • Switchblades may be mailed to authorized military personnel or government law enforcement agencies when shipped by the manufacturer;
  • Controlled substances, such as prescription medications containing controlled substances, may be mailed if they are shipped by manufacturers directly to licensed physicians, pharmacists, cosmetologists, barbers, veterinarians, and similar authorized personnel.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

18 U.S. Code Chapter 83 Postal Service has several federal laws related to 18 U.S. Code 1716 injurious articles as nonmailable, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 1691 – Laws governing postal savings;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1692 – Foreign mail as United States mail;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1693 – Carriage of mail generally;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1694 – Carriage of mail over post routes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1695 – Carriage of mail on vessels;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1696 – Private express for letters;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1697 – Transportation of persons as private express;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1698 – Prompt delivery of mail from a vessel;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1699 – Certification of delivery from a vessel;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1700 – Desertion of mails;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1701 – Obstruction of mail generally;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1702 – Obstruction of correspondence;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1703 – Delay of mail or newspapers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1704 – Keys or locks stolen or reproduced;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1705 – Destruction of letter boxes or mail;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1706 – Injury to mail bags;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1707 – Theft of property used by Postal Service;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1708 – Theft or receipt of stolen mail;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1709 – Theft of mail by officer or employee
  • 18 U.S.C. 1710 – Theft of newspapers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1711 – Misappropriation of postal funds;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1712 – Falsification of postal returns;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1713 – Issuance of money orders without payment;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1715 – Firearms as nonmailable regulations;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716A – Nonmailable locksmithing devices;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716B – Nonmailable plants;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716C – Forged agricultural certifications;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716D – Nonmailable injurious animals, plant pests;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1716E – Tobacco products as nonmailable;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1717 – Letters and writings as nonmailable;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1719 – Franking privilege;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1720 – Canceled stamps and envelopes;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1721 – Sale or pledge of stamps;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1722 – False evidence to secure second-class rate;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1723 – Avoidance of postage using lower class matter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1724 – Postage on mail delivered by foreign vessels;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1725 – Postage unpaid on deposited mail matter;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1726 – Postage collected unlawfully;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1728 – Weight of mail fraudulently increased;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1729 – Post office conducted without authority;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1730 – Uniforms of carriers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1731 – Vehicles falsely labeled as carriers;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1732 – Approval of bond by postmaster;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1733 – Mailing periodical publications without prepayment;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1734 – Editorials and other matters as advertisements;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1735 – Sexually oriented advertisements;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1736 – Restrictive use of information;
  • 18 U.S.C. 1737 – Manufacturer of sexually related mail matter.

Penalties for Violating 18 U.S.C. 1716

Placing injurious items in the mail can result in severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment, or both. If you're convicted of this crime, your maximum penalty will depend on the circumstances of the case, your intentions, and the consequences. Specifically, as follows:

  • For general violations with no aggravating circumstances: You could face up to one year in prison and fines of up to $100,000;
  • If you're convicted of mailing injurious items intending to cause death, you could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000;
  • If someone dies due to your actions, then you could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Potential Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 1716

If you're accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1716, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can implement several strategies to combat the charges, as discussed below.

Defenses for Mailing Injurious Articles as Nonmailable
Contact our federal defense lawyers for legal advice.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of knowledge. To be convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1716, prosecutors must show that you knowingly placed a prohibited injurious item in the mail.

Your attorney may attempt to show that you didn't have a complete awareness of the item's prohibited status or that you were unaware that the item you mailed contained an unmailable item.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a legitimate use. Your attorney may argue that you qualified for one of the legal exceptions to the rule—for example, if you can prove you mailed a controlled substance as an authorized manufacturer employee to a licensed physician, you would be exempt from prosecution.

Perhaps we can argue there was a mistake of fact. Your attorney may argue that you believed the item you mailed was not injurious or nonmailable due to misinformation or misunderstanding.

Perhaps we can argue there was duress. This may be a viable defense if you were forced to mail the injurious article under threat of harm to yourself or others. You can contact us by phone or using the contact form to review your case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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