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Article 134 - Mail: Taking, Opening, Secreting, Destroying, or Stealing

Paragraph 93 of of the Manual for Court Martial concerns a service member who takes, opens, secrets, destroys or steals mail that does not belong to him. The secrecy of mails cannot be violated. Depredation against or tampering with mails is an offense under the UCMJ and can be punished as decided by a court martial.

The text of statute of Article 134 says that all neglects and disorders which are adverse to the discipline and good order found in the armed forces and all conduct which can bring discredit to the armed forces, and offenses and crimes that are not capital will be punished by convening a court martial.

The United States Postal Service holds custody of mails, from the time a mail is deposited with a military post office, or another authorized post office or it is collected by a designated postal clerk serving in the military, until it reaches the addressee and it given to him or to a representative who has a written authorization from the addressee, to receive the mail.

Military postal personnel are also not permitted to break or permit others to break the seals on mail matter, while the mail is the postal channels of the military.

The lesser offenses of larceny and wrongful appropriation, under Article 121 and attempts under Article 80 are also covered under this offense.

Elements of the offense

1. Taking

  • The accused has taken mail matter.
  • The act was wrongful.
  • The accused took the mail matter before the mail could be delivered to the addressee or was received by the addressee.
  • The accused took the mail with the intention of obstructing the correspondence or to pry into the secrets or business of an organization.
  • In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was prejudiced to the discipline and good order found in the armed forces or the nature of the act was such that it brought discredit to the armed forces.
  1. Opening, secreting, destroying, or stealing
  • The accused has secreted, opened, stolen or destroyed mail matter.
  • The act was wrongful.
  • The accused took the mail matter before it could be delivered to the addressee or was received by the addressee.
  • In these circumstances, the accused's conduct was prejudiced to the discipline and good order found in the armed forces or the nature of the act was such that it brought discredit to the armed forces.

Explanation for the elements

Mails and mail systems must be protected, which is why this provision has been included in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 'Mail matter' refers to any matter that is deposited in the postal system of the government, any authorized depository, the United States' official channels or agency, including the armed forces. The mail's value is not relevant to the offense.

'Stealing' refers to the taking, withholding, or obtaining of a property with the intention of permanently defrauding or depriving another person of the benefit or use of the property or the appropriation of the property permanently for the person's use or for the use of any person who is not the owner.

Interestingly, any service member who discovers such an offense should immediately convey the matter to his Commanding Officer, who will in turn communicate it to the Postal Officer. Suspected violations should not be reported to mail orderlies, postal clerks or mail clerks because it may forewarn the person responsible for the violation and cause hindrance in subsequent investigations.

Maximum punishment for this offense

The maximum punishment that can be levied on an individual who is held guilty of committing this offense is a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of allowances and pay and 5 years of confinement.

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