If someone was to address and mail a package to me that included something that was prohibited where I live either because I requested it or alternatively because they decided to for some reason unknown to me (gift, attempt to frame me, my address is accessible to truly intended recipient,... ). At what point could I be charged with a crime, and what steps could be taken to protect myself from being on the wrong side of the law?

A) The moment I become the addressee of the parcel. B) At any point during the packages traversal through the postal system when the contents was accertained. C) The moment I accepted delivery of the parcel. D) The moment I opened the parcel and gained knowledge of its contents. E) Some time after D if I failed to report the content to appropriate legal authority. F)... Some other grey area not outlined above...

For arguments sake I'm an Australian citizen, but am equally interested on how this would be decided in various countries around the world including but not limited to America.

  • this article has an interesting point of view in terms of America,
    – Cody Aldaz
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


In the US, what is illegal is possession of certain things (drugs; firearms; alcohol; explosives; stolen goods...). Taking Washington drug laws as an example, the numerous prohibitions generally start "It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally...". If you requested it, you are intentionally in possession. If someone sent it to you without your knowledge, you didn't knowingly or intentionally possess it, but after you open the package and see that it is a controlled substance, then you are knowingly in possession. In that case, you are expected to notify the police that you're received something against the law to possess, but of course there could be a couple of minute lag between your realization and you getting the police on the phone. There is no statutory provision to the effect that you have 5 minutes from the point of discovery to call the police, instead, the jury would consider whether you were making reasonable efforts to inform authorities of the crime and become not in possession of the illegal goods. The grayness resides in how much time can elapse between discovery and arrival of the police, who relieve you of possession, and depends on circumstances (The first question would be, why didn't you call right away?)

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