Tuesday, August 14, 2007

U.S. v. Seljan (9th Cir. - Aug. 14, 2007)

I'm sitting here on the Big Island of Hawaii, waiting for Hurricane Flossie to whack the island later today. And was timely reminded, thanks to Judges Clifton and Gould, not to send international packages, mail, FedEx envelopes, or pretty much anything else that I don't want the government to view. Because, you see, the United States doesn't necessarily need probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or anything at all to justify opening up your international envelope. And the United States is pretty darn happy to exercise that right, thankyouverymuch.

Am I happy that 87-year old John Seljan doesn't get to "sexually educate" little kids in the Phillipines anymore? Definitely. He'll instead be "educated" in a federal prison for the next 20 years -- in other words, until he's 107. And it's 20 years only because Judge Stotler departed downward an utterly meaningless 22 months "on account of Seljan's advanced age."

Technically, the relevant federal statutes require reasonable suspicion before the U.S. opens international mail (at least without the consent of the sender). But there's a little known codicil of Title 31 that allows the United States to open up virtually anything, without any reason -- and certainly FedEx packages -- as long as they're ostensibly looking for currency violations. So the Ninth Circuit holds that the susicionless seizure here was permissible.

Remember that the next time you send sexually suggestive letters internationally. Or anything else, for that matter. Someone in a uniform may well be reading them first.

P.S. - Thanks, Judge Pregerson, for adding the complete text of Seljan's sexually suggestive letters to little girls to the F.3d. That's sometime I definitely want to read while on vacation. As well as memorialize forever.