Postal Seizures

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Did you know that the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) can seize packages in much the same manner as United States Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP)?  Just as USCBP can seize any illicit property at an airport or border crossing, USPIS can seize illicit property that goes through the U.S. Mail.

The United States Postal Inspection Service is an old but little known branch of United States law enforcement. Just like any other law enforcement agency, USPIS can serve and execute warrants, make arrests, and more. With a warrant, USPIS can open and inspect first class mail.Time is usually of the essence with postal investigations, so warrants are often obtained and issued quickly. To get a warrant, the officer need only convince a judge or magistrate that there is probable cause the letter or package is involved with a crime. In general, probable cause roughly amounts to reasonable likelihood – for example, a simple alert by a drug dog often satisfies this requirement. Such an alert would thus give USPIS authority to search that package, resulting in at least a delay in mailing if not an outright seizure or arrest. Moreover, USPIS can inspect other classes of mail without a warrant, since they are not considered private correspondence. USPIS inspects mail to search for mail fraud, weapons, weapons, harmful or terrorism-related materials, and narcotics.

If USPIS finds that a package or letter has been mailed in violation of a certain federal law—like anti-terrorism statutes, fraud laws, or narcotics regulations—the suspect piece of mail will be seized. In 2012 alone, USPIS seized assets valued at $54.6 million dollars. Such seizure is authorized by federal law and occurs via the same lengthyand complicated process as that which governs seizures by USCBP.

So why does this all matter to an average, law-abiding citizen?  The United States Postal Servicereceives massive volumes of mail daily, and monitoring that much material presents an often daunting task. One way of taking on this massive monitoring project is through generalized, or dragnet tactics, such as employing drug dogs. While this tactic is effective in this context, it can also be over-inclusive – for example, almost all U.S. currency contains trace amounts of narcotics. These trace amounts are often enough to alert drug dogs, giving USPIS grounds to seize your cash as drug money. Thus, postal inspections can often cause problems for people trying to mail cash. Mailing cash is entirely legal, and there are no reporting requirements to domestically send money. But if any drug dog picks up scents of narcotics on that money, it may be a long road to getting that money back.

According to the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, most mail that is seized by USPIS for an alleged narcotics law violation is sent from places like Southern California, Puerto Rico, and towns on the U.S./Mexico border. This mail is most often sent to places like Richmond, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and New York.If you’re sending or receiving mail in any one of these areas, it is likely to be more heavily monitored by USPIS, and you may be at a higher risk for such a seizure. Moreover, local governments and their respective branches of law enforcement often band together and launch higher intensity initiatives to catch individuals involved in drug crimes.

The narcotics scenario is just one common example of how legitimate mail can be seized from an innocent owner. Remember, USPIS can seize any mail that appears to be part of a crime scheme—USPIS monitors not only by scent but also by appearance, weight, and anything else that might make a package look suspicious. If your mail has been seized, there are steps you can take to recover your money. Just as with USCBP seizures, individuals can file a petition to remit the seized goods. To obtain the return of your seized property, you will need to able to prove that the property was legitimately sourced, used, and funded, and that you did not act with intent to violate the law.

The petition process to recover USPIS seized property is complicated and extremely time-sensitive.Petitions must be filed within 30 days of the forfeiture notice. This area of law is nuanced and complex—if this has happened to you, you need someone who knows the ins and outs of this process and who can act quickly and diligently to get your seized property back. At Garmo & Kiste, PLC, our attorneys routinely recover thousands of dollars for clients whose money or other goods have been seized by the USPIS and by USCBP. Remember, time is of the essence, so call us now for a free consultation!  We are available 24/7 toll-free at (877) 406-6906,or you can contact us with a private message.

For more information on USPIS, you can visit their website at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

For more information on USCBP, you can visit their website at http://www.cbp.gov/.

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