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Private Express Statutes

The Private Express Statutes (PES) are, a group of federal civil and criminal laws in United States (Title 18 United States Code sec. 1693 through sec. 1999 and Title 39 U.S.C. sec. 601 through sec. 606 implemented under 39 Code of Federal Regulations 310 and 320) placing various restrictions on, and allowing the United States Postal Service to impose certain requirements for, the private (other than by the United States Postal Service) carriage and delivery of letters.

History of the PES

In 1792 with the original passage of the PES, The United States Congress, under powers granted in the United States Constitution empowering Congress to "establish Post Offices and Post Roads," created a governmental monopoly on the carriage and delivery of letter mail. The Private Express Statutes make sure that this monopoly can be enforced. Today the Postal Service is empowered to suspend the PES, if such a private postal service would be in the interests of the general public.

The "Extremely Urgent" letter exception

In 1979 the Postal Service authorized the delivery of extremely urgent letters outside the USPS; this has given rise to delivery services such as Federal Express and Purolator. These letters must either cost at least the greater of $3 or twice what First Class (or Priority) mail service would cost or they must be delivered within strict time limits or otherwise lose value and must be marked "EXTREMELY URGENT". Records of pick up and delivery must be maintained for Postal Service inspection if the time sensitive exception is being used.

Private mail delivery service

In addition, it is possible to set up a private mail delivery service known as lawful private carriage if the USPS postage is paid in addition to any private postage fee that is collected. Records must be maintained that such postage has been paid, and it may be affixed to the letter cover by US stamps, meter imprints or through another method approved by the USPS; the postage must all have be cancelled by the sender in ink; the date of mailing is also affixed in ink to the cover (either by sender or carrier); and the letter cannot be removed without defacing the cover from the envelope or other container in which the letter is sent. An agreement must be entered into with the Postal Service to conduct volume private carriage through the Chicago Rates and Classification Service Center which has national responsibility for the PES.

Occasional private mail delivery

One does not need to establish a private mail delivery service for the occasional commercial transport of a letter outside the mails so long as the rate which would have been due to the USPS is affixed in stamps, the stamps are cancelled in ink, and the date of receipt by the carrier or the transport of the letter, are noted thereon. All these privately-carried letters can bear a private cancellation if the cancellation is done in ink; note that private cancellations are different from private overprints on postage stamps.

Other exceptions to the PES

There are other exceptions to the PES that include an exception for private messenger service, free carriage of letters, letters incidental to cargo, and letters that at some point during their pick-up or delivery had previously entered into the USPS mailstream unless the letters are consolidated. As well there are certain documents and objects that are not considered letters even though containing a message and addressed to specific persons that fall outside the purview of the PES.

The following are the main exceptions:

Special messenger service exception

There are limited exceptions for special messenger services which deliver less than twenty five letters for an individual or company per occasion. In such case no postage need be paid or affixed to the letters; pick up and delivery can be from private residences and commercial businesses.

Free delivery exception

The delivery of letters without compensation and without the affixation or payment of any postage is also allowed; under 39 CFR 310.3(c) by third parties; and under 39 CFR 310.3(b) for one's own letters which includes regular employees only delivering company mail. Thus, it is not a violation of the PES if one delivers a letter of one's friend even without affixation of postage or if a company has one of its regular employees delivery mail that originates from the company to its customers. Regarding the personal delivery without compensation it is important to note that compensation is considered to include barter and goodwill. Thus an individual or business who receives a benefit for the delivery of letters does not fall under such a free carriage exception. For example, if you ask your friend to deliver a letter and you say, "When you get back I'll take you out to dinner," such carriage is not considered without compensation; in such a case one would be required to affix and cancel a sufficient amount of postage to the letter. Another example not falling under this exception would be a business that is carrying letters "free of charge" in the hopes of building business or incidental to some other delivery as an accommodation for its customer; this use would also require the affixation and cancelation of a sufficient amount of postage to be in compliance with the PES.

Cargo delivery exception

There is also an exception for the delivery of what otherwise may be considered a letter if it is sent with cargo and the letter is somehow incidental to the ordering, delivery or shipping of the cargo [39 CFR 310.3(a)].

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