19 CFR Appendix to Part 145, Appendix to Part 145
A. Scope. The Customs Service is authorized to examine, with certain exceptions for diplomatic and governmental mail, all mail arriving from outside the Customs territory of the United States (CTUS) which is to be delivered within the CTUS, and all mail arriving from outside the U.S. Virgin Islands which is to be delivered within the U.S. Virgin Islands. The term “Customs territory of the United States” is limited to the States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Consequently, mail arriving from other U.S. territories and possessions is subject to Customs examination even though it is designated “domestic” mail for Postal Service purposes. Likewise, mail in the APO/FPO military postal system is subject to Customs examination, even though it also is designated “domestic” mail for Postal Service purposes. The Customs Service therefor is responsible for examining all international mail to be delivered in the CTUS and certain limited categories of so-called “domestic mail”.
B. Definitions. Under various international conventions and bilateral agreements, international mail falls within two main classes, Parcel Post and Postal Union mail.
Parcel Post is not permitted to contain correspondence but is to be used for the transmission of merchandise and is fully subject to Customs examination in the same manner as other merchandise shipments (e.g., luggage, cargo, containers, etc.). Postal Union mail is divided into “LC” mail (Lettres et Cartes) and “AO” mail (Aures Objets).
“LC mail consists of letters, packages paid at the letter rate of postage, post cards, and aerogrammes. The term “letter class mail” as used in the Customs Regulations and in this policy statement means “LC” mail as well as equivalent articles in “domestic” mail subject to Customs examination. Equivalent articles in “domestic” mail would include articles mailed at the letter rate, or equivalent class or category, in the APO/FPO military system or from a U.S. territory or possession outside the CTUS. Since the term “letter class mail” thus includes packages and bulky envelopes as long as they are mailed at the letter rate, or equivalent class or category, the restrictions relating to opening and reading of correspondence apply equally to such packages or bulky envelopes.
“AO” mail is to be treated in the same manner as Parcel Post mail since the Universal Postal Union Convention requires that they “be made up in such a manner that they may be easily examined” and generally are not permitted to “contain any document having the character of current and personal correspondence.” Exceptions to the latter requirement exist for matter for the blind and certain correspondence between school children. Because of these exceptions, the prohibition against reading correspondence without a search warrant or authorization of the sender or addressee applies to correspondence of the blind and correspondence between school children contained in “AO” mail. “AO” mail can usually be identified by the following words: “Imprime” or “Printed Matter”, “Cecogramme” or “Literature for the Blind”, “Petit Paquet” or “Small Packet” or similar terms or their equivalents.
C. Reasonable Cause to Suspect. Determining whether there is “reasonable cause to suspect” that merchandise or contraband is contained in sealed letter class mail is ultimately a matter of judgment for each Customs official, based on all relevant facts and circumstances. This judgment should be exercised within the framework of the Customs regulation that sealed letter class mail which appears to contain only correspondence is not to be opened unless a search warrant or written authorization from either the sender or the addressee has been obtained in advance of the opening.
Past practice indicates that the following circumstances (which are illustrative and not exhaustive) provide “reasonable cause to suspect” and permit the opening of sealed letter class mail without a search warrant or authorization of the sender or addressee.
1. A detector dog has alerted to the presence of narcotics or explosives in a specific mail article.
2. X-ray of fluoroscope examination indicates the presence of merchandise or contraband.
3. The weight, shape, feel, or sound of the mail article or its contents may indicate that merchandise or contraband (e.g., a hard object which may be jewelry, a stack of paper which may be counterfeit money, or coins) could be in the mail article. Contents of a mail article which feel lumpy, powdery, or spongy may, for example, indicate the presence of narcotics.
4. Information from a source previously shown to be reliable indicates that an identifiable mail article contains merchandise or contraband.
5. The mail article is insured.
6. The mail article is a box, carton, or wrapper other than a thin envelope.
7. The sender or addressee of the mail article is known to be fictitious.
On the other hand, certain facts standing alone generally will not provide “reasonable cause to suspect” the presence of merchandise or contraband and therefore do not permit the opening of sealed letter class mail. For example, sealed letter class mail may not be opened merely because:
1. The mail article is registered.
2. The feel of a letter-size envelope suggests that it contains one or a limited number of photographs.
3. The mail article appears to be part of a mass mailing.
4. The mail article is from a particular country, whether or not a known source country of contraband.
5. A detector dog has alerted to the presence of narcotics or explosives somewhere within a tray of mail (the individual articles of mail must then be examined individually).
6. The sender of addressee of the mail article is known to have mailed or received contraband or merchandise in violation of law in the past.
7. The wrapper contains writing or typing similar to that previously found on articles of mail which contained contraband or merchandise in violation of law.
In case where any one of the above facts is present, additional evidence must exist which in conjunction with that fact provides reasonable cause to suspect the presence of merchandise or contraband.