Can USPS Open Priority Mail? (All You Need To Know)

As U.S. citizens, we expect a certain degree of privacy, whether it be from tech companies collecting our data, our neighbors next door, or even the contents of our mail.

Well, you may be aware that some mail classes are protected by the Fourth Amendment, requiring a warrant before they can be opened by anyone except the recipient. But does that include Priority Mail? If you’d like to find out, keep reading!

Can USPS Open Priority Mail In 2024?

The United States Postal Service can open items sent via the Priority Mail mail class without a warrant in 2024. The Fourth Amendment only covers mail sent via First-Class Letter and Package. If packages or envelopes appear to be suspicious, USPS employees or U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents are legally allowed to open them at will.

To learn more about the process of how USPS looks inside packages, how often mail is X-Rayed, what makes a package suspicious and much more, keep going!

Does USPS Look Inside Packages?

There are a few steps before USPS employees or employees of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) open them.

However, Postal Service employees are on the front lines, and they provide the first line of defense against dangerous packages or packages that might contain illegal substances.

In fact, they’re specially trained to notice when something looks out of place or sounds out of place (more on that further down).

As well, some Post Offices also have special machines that can detect chemicals.

So, if a box shipped by Priority Mail looks odd or sets off an alarm, it can and will absolutely be opened right then and there by Postal Service employees.

However, most packages don’t get opened, because the vast majority of people are sending innocuous items.

On the other hand, for those that do contain contraband or illegal items, if Postal employees notice, the box will be opened.

Further still, if it’s a First-Class letter or package, then there is another step- obtaining a warrant. However, USPS won’t go about obtaining one without solid evidence first.

Does USPS X-Ray Priority Mail?

USPS does X-Ray Priority Mail, as it X-Rays all mail – randomly, but more commonly near or in larger cities.

This is simply because where there are a larger number of packages passing through, so will there be a larger likelihood that people are up to no good.

Because of this practice, you might be tempted to write Do Not X-Ray on your package, as a means of keeping prying eyes out.

However, this will surely backfire, as the USPS will be even more suspicious of what’s inside.

Also, if your package is being sent by First-Class Letter or Package, then the Postal Service does not need a warranty.

What Makes a Package Suspicious to USPS?

What Makes a Package Suspicious to USPS?

Let’s take a look at some of the signifiers that lead USPS to suspect that a package might need to be opened and investigated if it meets the following criteria:

  • Writing on it that says “Do Not X-Ray”
  • Looks lighter than it actually is (drug traffickers put extra weight in packages) or is lopsided or weirdly shaped
  • Has a handwritten address and no return address
  • Was mailed from a different ZIP code than the return address states
  • Has a fake return address
  • Is taped all around, top to bottom
  • Has an excessive amount of postage
  • Is leaking a powdery substance

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you a good idea of the obvious things Postal workers look for when they’re at work every day.

What Happens If Your USPS Package Gets Seized?

If your USPS package gets seized, whether you sent it Priority Mail, with Retail Ground, or Parcel Select, and it contains non-mailable items, you will likely get a call from your Post Office.

For packages where there is merely a mistake (ex. an old label that hasn’t been marked off), the sender will hear from the Post Office.

At this time, they’ll have two days to come get the package or make any corrections.

For example, say your package is seized and opened, and nonmailable (but not illegal) substances were found within, such as some aerosols or perfumes.

In that case, the more likely outcome is that you will have your package returned to you with a warning.

However, if your package gets seized and there are illegal substances within – drugs, prescription medications, firearms, etc. – you’re going to be in trouble.

What Happens If USPS Finds Drugs in a Package?

If USPS finds drugs in your package that you opted to ship via Priority Mai, for whatever reason, you could be looking at felony charges.

(USPS is a federal agency, so using them to commit a crime is felonious.)

However, how much trouble you are in depends on a few different factors.

For example, if this is your first offense and it was only a small amount, you will be in much less trouble than if this is a repeated offense and you look like you’re smuggling with intent to sell.

In some cases, the USPS, in conjunction with local law enforcement, will conduct a sting operation.

For such an operation, an agent will dress up as a mail carrier and deliver the package, all while under surveillance, waiting for someone to come retrieve the parcel.

The reason USPS will conduct a sting like this is that not only is sending drugs through the mail illegal but so is receiving.

So, you and your recipient could go down for this, and if it’s enough quantity-wise, you could be looking at serious jail time and big fines.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on USPS Priority Mail Cubic, USPS Surepost vs USPS Priority, and how long does USPS Priority Mail Express take.


The USPS can and will open Priority Mail without a warrant, as it is not protected by the Fourth Amendment like First-Class Letter and Package is.

If USPS is tipped off by anything suspicious and then finds an item that is nonmailable, you’ll probably receive the item back. But if USPS finds anything outright illegal, you could receive jail time and fines.

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Cara Suppa

Cara Suppa has been freelance writing for over a decade and holds a BA in English and an MS in Integrated Marketing Communications. Outside of work, she is an avid cook, gardener, and discount shopper.

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