By Steve Elliott
Portland police and a U.S. postal inspector had no legal authority to intercept a package headed to a Portland home just because they suspected it contained contraband and a police dog later alerted to it, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.
The ruling will likely put an end to the long-standing practice of having a postal inspector and two cops pull aside and examine express mail packages at Portland International Airport's postal cargo center without obtaining search warrants, reports Aimee Green at The Oregonian.
It's the first time an Oregon appeals court has ruled on this issue, according to Stephen Houze, the Portland defense attorney representing defendant Max Barnthouse. Barnthouse, then 26, was arrested in April 2012 after cops pulled a package from mail that had been headed to his home.
The cops claimed because the package was addressed to a pseudonym, had a handwritten rather than a typed address, had an incorrect zip code, and the postage was paid with cash or debit card rather than from an established business account, that was enough for them to remove Barnthouse's package from the mail about 6 a.m. at set it aside for narcotics detection dog Nikko to sniff. The dog signaled on the package.
Police and the postal inspector pull 30 or 40 packages a day for the sniff test, according to the appeals court summary. The dog is right about nine out of 10 times, one officer testified.