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Mail and Wire Fraud

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Revew Volume: 48 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2011 Pages: 905-928
William M. Sloan
Date Published
24 pages
This overview of Federal mail and wire fraud statutes explains elements of the various offenses defined under these laws, defenses to charges brought under these statutes, and sentencing.
Congress enacted the mail fraud statute with the initial purpose of securing the integrity of the U.S. Postal Service. Over time, the mail and wire fraud statutes have been expanded to cover a number of modes of communication, such as facsimile, telex, modem, and Internet transmissions. In addition, the statutes provide Federal courts with jurisdiction over a broad array of frauds. Subsequent congressional action has both broadened the scope of the mail and wire fraud statutes and enhanced the criminal penalties for offenses under these statutes. Because the character, language, and scope of the mail and wire fraud statutes are similar, legal analysis and case law on mail fraud are equally applicable to wire fraud and vice versa. Currently, to be convicted of a mail or wire fraud offense, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant perpetrates a scheme to defraud that includes a material deception; with the intent to defraud; while using the mails, private commercial carriers, and/or wires in furtherance of that scheme; that did result or would have resulted in the loss of money or property or the deprivation of honest services. In addition to these four elements, the wire fraud statute also requires proof that the communication at issue crossed State lines. A defendant has available two defenses to alleged violations of mail and wire fraud statutes: the "good-faith" defense and the statute-of-limitations defense. Since sentences for violations of Federal criminal laws are influenced by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, the concluding section of this article references the Guidelines for sentences under the mail or wire fraud statutes. 169 notes


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