With federal criminal charges, intent is often the most vital aspect of the case. Oftentimes, you may not fully realize that what you are doing is indeed a crime; you may simply believe you are helping someone out or just having some fun. Yet it is the end result that will typically bring scrutiny upon you.
Take the act of destroying or breaking open a mailbox. According to the U.S. Postal Service, doing so could net you a $250,000 fine or three years in prison (or a combination of both).
Why would destroying a mailbox be considered a federal offense? The Postal Service is a federal agency, and anything that interferes with their work could be considered a federal offense. Destroying or damaging a mailbox makes it more difficult to get important letters to their would-be recipients, and added additional work to those tasked with delivering an carrying the mail.
You may have heard of people playing pranks like putting fireworks inside of mailboxes or hitting them with baseball bats while driving by and seen such acts as little more than harmless pranks. However, the resulting damage is nothing to laugh about, and if you engage in such actions, it may difficult to argue that your intentions were not malicious given their outcomes.
It is when the issue of gaining access to a mailbox that is not your own comes up that the application of federal law becomes somewhat murkier. Say your neighbor has asked you to retrieve their mail while they are away, and in the process of doing so, you accidentally damage their mailbox or mail slot. While the outcome might technically warrant charges based on the definition of the law, your intent of trying to assist another should also be considered.