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UNITED STATES v. BELL

December 13, 1968

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CLARENCE W. BELL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marovitz, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

    Motions of Defendant to Suppress Confession and Physical
                            Evidence

This is a criminal action under 18 U.S.C. § 1709 charging defendant, Clarence W. Bell, an employee of the Post Office, with theft of mail matter. Defendant was arrested by postal inspectors at the Main United States Post Office Building, Chicago, Illinois, on Friday, August 9, 1968. At the time of the arrest, defendant was interrogated by the postal inspectors, apparently made incriminating statements and either turned over or had taken from his person various articles including some allegedly stolen letters. Defendant has moved to suppress said confession and evidence.

The Government, in its brief in opposition to defendant's motions, has stated that defendant's detention at the Post Office Building extended from approximately 5:40 PM until 8:30 PM on the same day when defendant was taken to Chicago Police Headquarters at 11th Street and State Street for further detention. Defendant was arraigned before the United States Commissioner at the United States Courthouse, Chicago, Illinois, on the next morning, August 10, 1968, at approximately 11 AM. Defendant has not challenged the Government's calendar of events and we will accept it for the purpose of ruling on defendant's motions.

Defendant's position is that postal inspectors do not have the authority to make arrests and, consequently, that the inspectors' search and interrogation of defendant were illegal and the evidence and confession unconstitutionally obtained from defendant. A postal inspector's duties and responsibilities are stated in 39 U.S.C. § 3523(a)(2)(C), (K):

  "(C) Investigates violation of postal laws,
  including, but not limited to, armed robbery,
  mailing of bombs, burglary, theft of mail,
  embezzlements, obscene literature and pictures,
  and mail fraud.
  (K) In any criminal investigation, develops
  evidence, locates witnesses and suspects;
  apprehends and effects arrest of postal offenders,
  presents facts to United States attorney, and
  collaborates as required with Federal and State
  prosecutors in presentation before United States
  Commissioner, grand jury, and trial court."
  (Emphasis added.)

Defendant relies heavily on Alexander v. United States, 390 F.2d 101 (5th Cir. 1968). In that case, a conviction for mail theft was reversed when the court held, among other things, that federal law, 39 U.S.C. § 3523(a)(2)(K), did not grant postal inspectors the authority to make arrests and that defendant's arrest was also improper under state (Texas) law.

Without elaboration, a couple of cases have stated that subsection (K) authorizes a postal inspector to make an arrest. In Kelley v. Dunne, 344 F.2d 129 (1st Cir. 1965), it was said:

  "Under 39 U.S.C. § 3523(a)(2)(C) and (K) he [a
  postal inspector] had authority to investigate,
  develop evidence, locate witnesses, and make
  arrest." 344 F.2d at 130.

Similarly, in Neggo v. United States, 390 F.2d 609 (9th Cir. 1968) the court considered the contentions of a convicted mail embezzler and said:

  "We find that the arrest was lawful. There was
  probable cause. We hold that postal inspectors
  were authorized to make the arrest as private
  citizens under California Penal Code Section 837,
  and under 39 U.S.C. § 3523(a)(2)(K). The latter
  section defines duties of a postal inspector." 390
  F.2d at 610.

Thus, the First and Ninth Circuits have somewhat easily reached the conclusion that 39 U.S.C. ยง 3523(a)(2)(K) empowers a postal inspector to make arrests while the Fifth Circuit holds otherwise. We would agree with the Fifth Circuit that there was no real analysis of the relevant statute in Kelley or, for that matter in Neggo. Yet we must disagree with the Fifth Circuit's conclusion that such lack of analysis precludes a meaningful conclusion as to the validity of a postal inspector's arrest power. That there has been no real examination of this law may only indicate that there was and is no real ...


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