In March, my parents and I submitted our passport applications to take a trip.

I received my passport at my home. And the Passport office states that my parent’s passports were delivered to their home. However, my brother lives with my parents and took the passports and will not return them, because he does not want my parents to go on a vacation with me. He has kept their passports for over a month now.

What laws has he broken? What are the punishments? Since he took the passports from the mailbox, even though he lives there, and kept their government documents is that still a crime? What division of the government would address criminal complaints about this?

One crime is obstruction of correspondence, 18 USC 1702,

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

This matter would be investigated by the US Postal Inspection service, and the federal government may elect to prosecute the individual. This assumes that the passports were in an approved mailbox: a slot through the door is not an authorized depository.

A passport is property of the US government, see 22 CFR 51.7. There is a law, 18 USC 641, against doing that, specifically

Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or Whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

Dept. of State has a web page telling you how to report a stolen passport: note that reporting a passport as stolen means it will be cancelled.

There are criminal statutes that prevent misuse of passports, but only one that comes close to covering the aforementioned confiscating of a passport, namely 18 USC 1545, which says

Whoever violates any safe conduct or passport duly obtained and issued under authority of the United States shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

This is residue from the 1790 Crimes Act (discussed here), the point mainly being to protect ambassadorial rights – in those days, passports were not a currently-obligatory travel document. There appears to be no record in this law being applied against passport-theft.

  • Wow! Thanks a lot! I feel bad to send my brother away for 10 years, but in truth, it would most likely improve his life.. or make him hate me even more. But, he already hates me now and it would surely make up for all the beatings I got from him all my life that he was never punished for, but I often had to get stitches because of him. I know that the passport has an RFID chip in it. Is there a way for me to find it, to confirm that the passport is indeed in his possession before I contact the post office? Otherwise isn’t it just his word agains my word without proof? – user18076 May 17 at 10:15

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