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United States v. Van Leeuwen


At about 1:30 p.m., March 28, two 12-pound packages, each insured for $10,000, were deposited “airmail registered” at a post office in Mount Vernon, WA, near the Canadian border. The mailer declared that they contained coins. One package was addressed to a post office box in Van Nuys, CA, and the other to a post office box in Nashville, TN. The postal clerk told a policeman that he was suspicious of the packages. The policeman at once noticed that the return address on the packages was a vacant housing area and the license plates of the mailer’s car were from British Columbia. The policeman contacted the Canadian police, who called Customs in Seattle. Ninety minutes later, Customs learned that one addressee was under investigation in Van Nuys for trafficking in illegal coins. Due to the time differential, Customs was unable to reach Nashville until the following morning when they were advised that the second addressee was also being investigated for the same crime. A search warrant was issued at 4 p.m. and executed at 6:30 p.m., on the following day. The packages were opened, inspected, resealed, and promptly sent on their way


Whether the twenty-nine hour delay in obtaining a search warrant for the packages was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment?


No. Under the circumstances of coordination with officials in a distant location and time difference, 29 hours was reasonable.


The nature and weight of a 12-pound “airmail registered” package, the mailer’s fictitious return address and Canadian license plates, and the knowledge that the addressee is under investigation for trafficking in illegal coins, constituted probable cause for the issuance of a warrant to search the packages. Twenty-nine hours is not “unreasonable” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, where officials in the distant destination could not be reached sooner because of the time differential.


397 U.S. 249, 90 S. Ct. 1029 (1970)

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