Legalities, a weekly column that appears in the Help section of the Southern Illinoisan, is a free service of the Self Help Legal Center. You can visit the Southern Illinoisan website at: http://www.southernillinoisan.com
Q: Our local club wants to publicize a spaghetti dinner we will be having and the idea came up to stuff flyers in mailboxes in our town (we have about 9000 residents). I always heard that putting this kind of stuff in a person's mailbox was illegal. Is that true or does that rule only apply to the U.S. mailboxes that you would find on a street corner?
A: Like most people, I too have always heard that it is illegal to put flyers, notes, pizza coupons, in people=s mailboxes. Sometimes, these commonly heard admonitions turn out to be untrue and only used by parents to scare impressionable kids. This is not one of those times.
Section 1725 of Title 18 of the United States Code states that Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title.
The Domestic Mail Manual (which you can find on the Internet at www.usps.com) goes into more specifics. It states that no part of a mail receptacle may be used to deliver any matter not bearing postage, including items or matter placed upon, supported by, attached to, hung from, or inserted into a mail receptacle.
Section D041 of The Domestic Mail Manual also states the penalty for violating this section is that you pay the postage that you would have paid had you actually mailed your flyer. If you use the average of a 2.5 person household, you would have about 3600 mailboxes in a town of 9000. The fine, therefore, for stuffing all of the mailboxes in your town could run into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
My advice, therefore, is to do what thousands of politicians do around the country in the days leading up to Election Day B put the flyer in the door handle, not the mailbox.