19 CFR Appendix Policy Statement to Part 145, Examination of Sealed Letter Class Mail
A. Customs officers and employees shall not open first class mail arriving in the U.S. Virgin Islands for delivery there, if it originated in the Customs territory of the United States, unless a search warrant or written authorization of the sender or addressee is obtained. Customs officers or employees may open and examine all other sealed letter class mail which is subject to the Customs mail regulations (see 19 CFR part 145) and which appears to contain matter in addition to, or other than, correspondence, provided they have “reasonable cause to suspect” the presence of merchandise or contraband.
B. Customs officers and employees shall not open any sealed letter class mail which appears to contain only correspondence unless a search warrant or written authorization of the sender or addressee is obtained in advance of the opening.
C. Customs officers and employees are prohibited from reading, or authorizing or allowing others to read, any correspondence contained in any letter class mail unless there has been obtained in advance either a search warrant or written authorization of the sender or addressee. This prohibition, which will continue to be strictly enforced, also applies to correspondence between school children and correspondence of the blind which are authorized to be mailed at other than the letter rate of postage in international mail.
D. If a violation of law is discovered upon opening any mail article referred to in paragraph C, and it is believed that the correspondence may provide additional information concerning the violation and is therefore needed for further investigation or use in court, a search warrant shall be obtained before any correspondence is seized, read, or referred to another agency. Search warrants shall be promptly sought. Correspondence may be detained while a search warrant is being sought.
E. If no controlled delivery is arranged and correspondence is not to be otherwise seized pursuant to a search warrant (see “F” below), the item which constitutes the violation shall be removed and any correspondence shall be replaced in the wrapper, or in a new wrapper if the original wrapper has been seized pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 1595a. The wrapper shall then be resealed, marked to indicate it was opened by Customs, and returned to postal channels. Appropriate seizure notices shall be sent in accordance with 19 CFR 145.59(b).
F. No mail article may be referred to another agency without a search warrant unless -
(1) Any correspondence has been removed and the mail article is being referred for examination and clearance under 19 CFR 145.57,
(2) Any correspondence has been removed and the mail article has been lawfully seized by Customs,
(3) The mail article is being referred to Postal Service channels to effect a controlled delivery in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, or
(4) The mail article is being returned to Postal Service channels for normal processing.
G. Whenever sealed letter class mail is opened, the factors giving the Customs officer or employee “reasonable cause to suspect” the presence of merchandise or contraband shall be recorded on the appropriate form and on the opened envelope or other container by means of appropriate coded symbols. Should a seizure result, these factors shall also be recorded on the seizure report.
H. Sealed letter class mail with the green Customs label on a Customs declaration may be opened without additional cause. Correspondence in such mail is subject to the restrictions regarding the detention, reading, and referral of mail to other agencies found in paragraphs C through F.
I. Whenever any sealed letter class mail is opened for any of the reasons set forth in the above paragraphs, a Postal Service employee shall be present and shall observe the opening.
J. Any violation of the Customs mail regulations or any of these policies will lead to appropriate administrative sanctions, as well as possible criminal prosecution pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1702.