United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
M. DiGirolamo United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Request to
Vacate Guilty Plea for Insufficiency of Evidence (ECF No.
15), the Government's Memorandum of Law in Support of
Defendant's Guilty Plea (ECF No. 13), and the
Government's Rebuttal Memorandum of Law in Support of
Defendant's Guilty Plea (ECF No. 16). For the reasons
stated below, Defendant's request or motion is DENIED.
to the complaint's affidavit of probable cause (ECF No.
1-1) as summarized in the Government's Memorandum of Law
in Support of Defendant's Guilty Plea (ECF No. 13),
[o]n October 24, 2015, the postmaster at the Temple Hills
Post Office, Temple Hills, MD called the United States Postal
Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) and said there was
[a] parcel at the station which was suspected to contain
drugs. An OIG agent told the postmaster to lock the parcel in
a secure space for further investigation. The next day, the
postmaster called back and said that the parcel, which had
been locked inside her office, had disappeared.
The agent obtained video surveillance from the Temple Hills
Post Office. The video showed that on October 24, 2015, the
defendant exited the rear door of the Temple Hills Post
Office carrying the parcel and placed the parcel into the
trunk of her personal vehicle.
Postal Service records showed that the parcel . . . was
mailed from San Diego, California on October 22, 2015,
weighing 12 pounds. The parcel contained a return address
from [L.T. at an address in San Diego, California]. The
parcel was addressed to [D.T. at an address in Temple Hills,
Maryland]. [The Temple Hills address] is a part of carrier
route 31 out of the Temple Hills Post Office. Postal Service
management reviewed letter mail addressed to [the Temple
Hills address], and reported no one by the name of [D.T.]
resides at that address.
On October 27, 2015, agents interviewed the defendant. She
admitted to stealing [the parcel] from the postmaster's
office at the Temple Hills Post Office. The defendant, a
former employee at the post office, said she received a phone
call from a carrier at the Temple Hills Post Office. The
carrier told the defendant where the parcel was and asked the
defendant to get the parcel for her. The defendant did so.
The defendant said the carrier then came to the
defendant's house on October 25, 2015, and told her there
was marijuana in the parcel. The carrier gave the defendant
$1, 000 for her efforts. The government never recovered [the]
parcel or its contents.
Gov't's Mem. Supp. Def.'s Guilty Plea 1-2, ECF
No. 13; see Aff. Supp. Criminal Compl. ¶¶
1-8, ECF No. 1-1. Defendant was charged by criminal complaint
with one count of obstructing the passage of the mail in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1701. Criminal Compl., ECF No.
1. On May 11, 2016, Defendant entered a guilty plea before
the Court, but asked the Court to find that the facts alleged
by the Government do not support a conviction. ECF No. 14.
The parties briefed the issue upon the Court's
invitation, and the matter is now submitted.
knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of
the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than
six months, or both.” 18 U.S.C. § 1701. Thus,
“[t]here are three elements comprising a violation of
§ 1701: (1) willfully and knowingly; (2) obstructing or
retarding; and (3) the passage of the mail.” United
States v. Upshaw, 895 F.2d 109, 110 (3d Cir. 1990).
“Passage of the mail means the transmission of mail
matter from the time of placing in an official
depository to the time of delivery to the addressee.”
United States v. Fleming, 479 F.2d 56, 57 (10th Cir.
1973) (per curiam) (emphasis added); accord United States
v. Lavin, 567 F.2d 579, 581 (3d Cir. 1977). “[T]he
protection of mailed material from obstruction and delay does
not end when the material passes legitimately out of the
control of the United States Postal Service, but extends
until the mailed material is physically delivered to the
person to whom it is directed or to his authorized
agent.” United States v. Johnson, 620 F.2d
413, 415 (4th Cir. 1980). “[I]f there is a willful
obstruction of the passage of the mail for some illegitimate
reason there is a violation of § 1701 if the delay was
measurable.” Upshaw, 895 F.2d at 111. Further,
“[t]he standard for judging whether an item is mail is
an objective one. A reviewing court must ask ‘whether a
reasonable person who saw the letter would think it was a
letter that was intended to be delivered. It is the
appearance which it carries to the postal employee which is
crucial.'” United States v. Gonzalez, No.
S 89 CR. 543 (CSH), 1991 WL 79202, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 3,
1991) (quoting United States v. Hergenrader, 529
F.2d 83, 85 (8th Cir. 1976)). The purpose of the statute is
“to deter people from intentionally interfering with
the flow of the mails.” United States v.
Almendral, 961 F.Supp. 224, 229 (N.D. Cal. 1997).
“Historically, prosecutions under the predecessors of
[§] 1701 have involved ‘obstruction' such as
the unlawful delay of mail trains and obstruction of the
travel of letter carriers.” United States v.
Brown, 551 F.2d 236, 239 n.6 (8th Cir. 1977) (citations
matter” under 39 U.S.C. § 3001 includes, among
other things, obscene matter “otherwise mailable by
law” under 18 U.S.C. § 1461 and “injurious
articles” under 18 U.S.C. § 1716, which, in turn,
includes controlled substances. United States Postal Service,
Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable
Mail, § 453.31 (Mar. 2016),
“Matter is nonmailable also when it cannot be delivered
because of an illegible, incorrect, or insufficient address,
or when it does not meet [United States Postal Service]
standards for mail preparation, classification, postage
prices, size, or weight.” Id. § 123.5;
see 39 U.S.C. § 3001(c).
contends that her actions, as a matter of law, do not meet
the elements of obstruction of the mail under 18 U.S.C.
§ 1701 because “mail” was not involved. She
asserts that, because the package contained nonmailable
contraband, it was not “mail” for purposes of
§ 1701. Alternatively, Defendant maintains that she did
not obstruct mail because the package already had been
removed from the mail stream. Defendant thus requests the
Court to vacate her plea of guilty under Fed. R. Crim. P.
11(b)(3) because she maintains that there is an insufficient
factual basis to convict her of violating § 1701.
matter that is nonmailable under 18 U.S.C. § 1716 in the
mails does not render such matter “not mail” or
“not mail matter” because it is
“nonmailable matter” that can be removed from the
mail stream, however. Rather, in the Court's view,
“[t]he term ‘mail matter' means matter
deposited in a postal system, any authorized depository, or
in official mail channels of the United States.”
United States v. Fox, 48 M.J. 518, 520 (N-M. Ct.
Crim. App. 1998) (per curiam), aff'd, 50 M.J.
444 (C.A.A.F. 1999). Because the Court agrees with the
Government that the package was objectively ...