The U.S. Postal Service and DEA has developed a drug packing profile to stop mail trafficking. Faced with a deluge of suspicious packing heading towards consumers, courts determine that any reasonable expectation of privacy in personal effects must give way to society’s interest in law enforcement to win the war on drugs.
Suspicious packages are removed from the conveyor belts of mainstream mail, and placed in a special area for a sniffing dog. If the dog alerts to the package, a search warrant or anticipatory warrant is obtained, the package is opened, analyzed, and a controlled delivery is made.
A signaling device is often placed in a package and a controlled delivery by DEA and local authorities is made. After delivery, the recipient is surveillance and usually leaves home to make a final delivery and pick up cash payments. Alternatively, the recipient may simply be arrest upon accepting delivery of the package.
The Postal Service devised the process of mail cover by which a record is made of data appearing on the outside of mail to obtain information pertaining to the commission of the crime. But even if agency regulations are not compiled with, courts still uphold the profile.
Mail sent by Federal Express and UPS is sometimes accidentally damaged (so they say) revealing the contents in plain view, and officials are notified. If a package is opened by private citizens, the Fourth Amendment affords no protection. If police gain lawful possession of the package through the action of a private party such as UPS or Federal Express, there is no invasion of the defendants’s privacy, since no governmental action is involved. If agents exceed the scope of the private search to a greater degree, the subsequent search will be suppressed. There is no constitutional right of privacy in the outward appearance of a package or in its a general description.
Courts consider the amount and length of delay. If the delay is reasonably brief, it is permissible. Delays considered reasonable include nine and one-half hours, nineteen hours, twenty-nine hours, and one and a half days. One court disallowed a seven day delay of a mailed package.
A few courts determine whether agents pursued the least intrusive course of action, but most consider whether the government in its search acted reasonably under the totality of circumstances.
Among factors to be considered in determining reasonableness are:
- Timeliness. The brevity of the detention.
- Diligence. The diligence of police in minimizing the intrusion.
- Information. The information provided to the suspect, regarding the detention and return of his packages.
Courts conclude that such mailed package intrusions are insignificant, go unnoticed.
Drug Package Profile
The drug package profile includes:
- Size and shape of the package
- Unusual return names and addresses.
- Unusual odors coming from the package
- Destination of parcel
- Multiple packages sent to the same address but to different persons.
- Numerous packages mailed to arrive for delivery on a repeated basis.
- A package labeled “parts” that doesn’t rattle when shaken.
- Labels are handwritten.
- Excessive tape used to seal the edges.
- Sender had made a similar shipment a week before.
- Package with no account number.
Package Profile Factors
The presence of any of the profile factors is enough to sustain a seizure regardless of what the factors are. Those factors include:
- Package was obtained due to a suspicious pattern of recent activity
- Package has a fictitious address
- Three suspicious packages in a five month period
Stay tuned as more profiles are being developed and current profiles are redefined, as new cases are decided. The important consideration is that an accused individual has the right to stand trial for only the specific crime charged and not other irrelevant evidence of the action of others.