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Another change in the personnel of the cabinet will have an effect in the same direction. Count Ito has laid down the office of minister president of the cabinet and been appointed president of the privy council just called into existence, retaining at the same time a seat in the cabinet. Count Kuroda, who has been thought of for this position for two years past, takes the office of minister president. This has given satisfaction to the most progressive journals, and everybody except irreconcilables seems to be pleased with the new arrangement. The policy marked out by the government suffers no change unless it be in the line of more vigorous progress. Everything shows that the responsible leaders are determined to go as far and as fast as is safe and that nothing will deter them and nothing drive them into undue haste. The late press and other regulations issued early in the year show a strong determination to put down all secret plotting, but to remove restrictions from platform and journalism, encouraging free speech in public on all matters of public interest. Over these new regulations there has been a universal chorus of thanksgiving and joy from every shade of political literature. And now, with the popular leader Kuroda, generally supposed to be of sterner stuff, at the head as minister president, and the equally popular Oxuma in the next place of power, there is no doubt as to internal progress, and it is almost to be hoped that Japan may boldly denounce the antiquated treaties and begin de novo, treating with individual nations and not with a compact of diplomats.
C. S. EBY.
Tokio, Japan, June 1, 1888.
ARE DETECTIVE MEASURES JUSTIFIABLE?
UNDER the head of “Special to the World,” May 28, 1888, appeared an article in the New York “World” on that date, in which it was announced that “ Judge Spier in the United States District Court in Macon, Ga., yesterday, held that decoy letters sent out to catch postal officials were not such letters as the law contemplates, when it punishes those who tamper with them. . . . When the evidence was all in, Judge Spier ordered the jury to bring in a verdict of 'not guilty,' as the bogus character of the letter affected the entire proceeding. This will break up a very common practice among the post office detectives."
Without attempting to pass upon what actually took place in that court, but taking the foregoing for my text, I beg to pre
I sent some facts which would seem to controvert the decision of Judge Spier, if the newspaper report is correct.
If the report is true, then his decision removes from the officers and inspectors of the Post Office Department the only means they have of detecting dishonesty among employees of the department.
The object of this paper is not to criticise Judge Spier, but is intended to show to the public that this principle is wrong, and that Judge Spier is singularly alone in the position which he takes.
June 5, Judge Billings, in the United States Circuit Court at New Orleans, took an entirely different view of the law, and very wisely ruled that "a 'test' or decoy' letter is defined to be a sealed package addressed by one person to another and placed in the mail ; that such a letter, if really intrusted to the mail, is a letter within the meaning of the criminal law, and any person stealing such a letter violates the law. When honestly used by officers of the government, such letters are a
necessity, in order to separate the guilty from the innocent when many are under suspicion.”
Judge Billings then very tersely says: “No right-minded person ever attempted to destroy the decoy of Solomon, which by a threat of destruction of the child, appealing to the affections, induced the real mother, as well as the impostor, to declare herself.”
It is not my purpose to discuss whether an envelope, sealed, with a postage stamp upon it, addressed to a name and post office, and deposited in the mail, is, or is not, a letter within the meaning of the act of Congress. I simply present for the information of intelligent readers two sections of the Revised Statutes of the United States bearing upon this subject. Section 5467 declares :
Any person employed in any department of the postal service who shall secrete, embezzle, or destroy any letter . . . intrusted to him, or which shall come into his possession, and which was intended to be conveyed in the mail, . . . and which shall contain any note . other pecuniary obligation, any such person who shall steal or take any of the things aforesaid out of any letter which shall come into his possession, shall be punished by imprisonment at hard labor for not less than one year nor more than five years.
The question arises : “Is an envelope which bears the address of a person and post office, with the necessary postage upon it, placed in the mails, a letter to be conveyed in the mail,' within the meaning of the law ?” Section 5468 answers this question in full, when it
says : The fact that any letter has been deposited in any post office, or branch post office, established by authority of the Postmaster General, or any other authorized depositary for mail-matter, or in charge of any postmaster, or assistant clerk, carrier, agent, or messenger employed in any department of the postal service, shall be evidence that the same was intended to be conveyed in the mail within the meaning in the two preceding sections.
Section 5469 provides a penalty. “ Any person who shall take from out of any mail, post office, etc., or who shall, without the consent of the person having custody thereof, open, embezzle, or destroy any mail or letter, shall be punished by the same penalties as provided in section 5467."
There is an ignominy unjustly attached to the enforcement of postal laws by means of what are commonly called “decoy letters, but which Judge Billings has correctly named “test” letters. Honest officials do not use “ decoy” letters, but they do use “test” letters, and the distinction is very broad. For illustration : a complaint comes to the department, or some inspector or postmaster, that along a certain route of the railway mail service, or at a certain post office, some person is systematically robbing the mails.
All the circumstances are considered and weighed by the government official, and suspicion falls upon some individual. He may be guilty or innocent. The officer charged with the detection of this theft has no way of ascertaining who the guilty party is. He writes a letter, which he addresses to some party, or uses a fictitious name. In that letter he places marked money. This letter is properly sealed and addressed, the necessary postage is placed thereon, and then it is placed in the mails for mailing and delivery. In the ordinary course of business, this letter, among others containing remittances, comes into the hands of the party suspected. The thief having satisfied himself that the letter contains a remittance (not knowing that it is the “test” letter of the officer), opens it, and appropriates
Will any right-minded man say that the officer used a “decoy"? He simply used a letter within the meaning of the law, as is set out in the sections above referred to a “test” but not a “ decoy” letter. Is it not, in every sense of the word, a common-sense method of discerning between honest and dishonest employees of the particular department where the robbery was being conducted ? Some employee on that route was using dishonest methods, and the officer places this letter in the mails to see who is the thief, and who the honest man. He does not induce any one to commit a crime, and does not “decoy," or use a “decoy.” He mails his letter, follows it to a certain point, and then accomplishes his mission by bringing the real culprit to justice.
The same principle applies to persons advertising obscene matter, and sending out circulars under the sanctity of the seal.
No person is permitted to break the seal, and no person is presumed to know the contents of a sealed envelope. If we stand by and see a vender of obscenity mail one of his circulars, and have a knowledge of the true character of the circular in the envelope before it is deposited in the mails, after once being deposited, if sealed, no one is permitted to interfere with this matter. What is to be done? I reply, by invoking the same principle above set forth, to wit: the officer receives a circular advertising these obscene books, pictures, etc., and he finds in it probable cause to believe that some person is unlawfully using the mails. He uses a “test” letter to test and see if the party really sends out what he says in his circular he will send out. He does not use a “decoy,” but simply applies a test.
The courts in England and this country have in the past sustained the principle involved in this discussion. The highest court in this land (the Supreme Court of the United States) in a case where the party was arrested and brought to justice by the use of “test” letters, said :
While regulations excluding mail cannot be enforced in a way which would require or permit an examination into letters or sealed packages subject to letter postage, without warrant issued upon oath or affirmation, in the search for prohibited matter, they may be enforced upon competent evidence of their violation obtained in other ways, as from the parties receiving the letters or packages. (Ex parte Jackson, 6 Otto, 627.)
The United States Circuit Court, in United States v. Whittier, says:
Where the guilty intent to commit has been formed, any person may furnish opportunities, or even lend assistance to the criminal with the commendable purpose of exposing and punishing him. (5 Dillon, 35.)
The same court further says:
We do not decide that “decoy letters” may not be used to detect persons engaged, or suspected to be engaged, in violating criminal laws, but recognize the doctrine that such letters may be used. ... When persons are suspected of being engaged in the violation of criminal laws, or intending to commit an offense, it is allowable to resort to detective measures to procure evidence of such violation or inten