Validity of a postmark?
January 31, 2008 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Question about the validity of a "postmark" from the US Postal Service.

I mailed a couple of letters last night that needed to be postmarked that day (1/30) for legal reasons. After waiting in line at the only post office open until 7 p.m., I got to the counter only to see a sign saying that after 5:30, they were only postmarking with tomorrow's date. Ugh.

I was directed to the self-service machine. Those machines don't "postmark" your mail per se; they issue a sticker with a bar code that says "sold on 1/30." This is my question: Is this the same thing as a postmark? Couldn't I just buy that sticker and mail the letter a week later? It seems like that defeats the whole purpose of definitively proving the date a letter was mailed. Also, when I put my stamped letters in the slot (which said the next pickup was the next morning), were they stamped again with a 1/31 date? Or does the postage sticker I bought from the machine preclude any further date stamping by USPS?

If it makes any difference, I sent the letters certified mail, with return receipt requested. But again, there's nothing about those forms that indicates any kind of postmark date. In fact, with the certified mail receipt, at the window they put a postmark on that so you can show when the certified mail was sent. Having used the kiosk, I don't even have that.

As you can see I'm a little concerned about whether I have ironclad proof that my letters were mailed last night.
posted by luser to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Type your certified mail tracking number into the USPS website, it should show the "mailed on" date. I think it will probably show 1/31, but who knows?
posted by robinpME at 7:13 AM on January 31, 2008

robinpME's way of checking sounds good. I would suspect that the machine printout you received was merely the equivalent of a postage stamp, though, and that your letters will still receive a postmark the following day. Many different business have machines that print out dated postage, but these letters are postmarked again when they actually get to the post office and are processed (otherwise, every office in America would be backdating things).

If whoever's looking at your letter is just some bureaucrat checking for a date, she may not discern the difference. You could be in the clear. But most people in the legal and corporate worlds deal with this stuff all the time. Many have gotten very creative with how to falsify dates, and many have gotten in trouble for being caught. So if someone serious is examining your letter, they're probably going to realize you mailed it after 5.
posted by aswego at 7:47 AM on January 31, 2008

Gah. If this is the case, it seems like it would trivial for the kiosk machine to just incorporate some kind of stamper that puts one instance of today's date in a legit postmark onto your letter, driven off your just having paid for postage for one letter or parcel.

So the official postmark is only available before 5:30 (or whenever office hours end for the branch)? Seems so archaic, given how often this must come up.
posted by luser at 8:50 AM on January 31, 2008

Just entered the certified tracking number, there's no record of the mailing. "Event information may not be available if your item was mailed recently. Please try again later." That's helpful.
posted by luser at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2008

I have this come up all the time. I'll have documents which must be filed with a court on a specific dates, and under the mailbox rule, they are filed the date they are stamped received by the post office. Usually what I do--even if it is late--is to go up to the counter and ask that they stamp it with their little round stamp showing they received it today. The "5:30" thing is usually "we will not process today any mail received after this time period." But I never care about when the darn things are processed, I care about the PO receiving it. And they have this little stamp that they always put on it marking it received even if they don't process it until the next day.

So, at least how they do it at the post offices around here, they have a stamp they can use to show receive, and they have other stamps and markers to indicate the date it is processed.

As long as my legal documents have that stamped showing they received it before 11:59:59, then I've never had an issue whatsoever.
posted by dios at 11:09 AM on January 31, 2008

Interesting. So for most legal purposes, "postmarked" doesn't really mean "postmarked," but "received by the post office." I asked for a postmark after 5:30, but I guess I should have asked for the "recieved by" stamp?
posted by luser at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2008

Interesting. So for most legal purposes, "postmarked" doesn't really mean "postmarked," but "received by the post office." I asked for a postmark after 5:30, but I guess I should have asked for the "recieved by" stamp?
posted by luser at 1:20 PM on January 31

Well, just to be clear: I have no idea what the document you were mailing or in what state. I was not offering legal advice specific to your question.

Rather, I was explaining my personal practice here in Texas for filing documents with the Court. Here, it is governed by Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 5. Most states have something analogous, but again, I do not know what state you are doing this in.

The logic for court documents in Texas centers on the fact that the Courts are part of the government and so are post offices. By showing the post office received something--that is, the government received something--by a particular date is an indication that the document was completed by that date and handed to the government at a proveable time.

So, that is why I go and get them to stamp received. Because receipt is all I care about.

I have no idea what legal documents you are talking about, so what I said may not apply at all. I am just telling my personal experience with going to the post office late in the day and getting them to accept and stamp my legal documents.
posted by dios at 11:32 AM on January 31, 2008

Type your certified mail tracking number into the USPS website, it should show the "mailed on" date. I think it will probably show 1/31, but who knows?

It will not show the date it was mailed; it will show the date the postage was bought. Take this as an example; the APC screwed up the printing of the bar code, so I had to get another certified mail form, so information for that number won't ever be updated because it has not entered (and will not ever enter) the postal system.

In order to get proof that you mailed it on a certain date, you have to take it to a postal service counter and pay for a proof of mailing. Without this, you have no proof, until the item is delivered, that the post office even received it, much less when.
posted by oaf at 12:10 PM on January 31, 2008

dios is referring to a separate legal standard that is unrelated to a postmark. It's probably a reasonable substitute for most postmark requirements (an even better idea than the machine-stamp). But it's still different from a postmark, and nobody has to construe it as such if that is what is strictly required.
posted by aswego at 1:10 PM on January 31, 2008

« Older Help me survive the madness...   |   Bed and Breakfast: Should I stay or should I go? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.