Oregon Court: Cops Pulling U.S. Mail For Dog ‘Sniff Test’ Unlawful
I read all the time about people mailing marijuana. I personally think it’s a bit crazy (and obviously risky) to do something like that and expect to get away with it. But a lot of people do it, and successfully I might add. But for all the people doing it without any issues, there are a lot of other people that get the dreaded knock on their door by police. That was the case for one man in Portland, Oregon. But the man wasn’t actually mailing something – he was receiving mail.
Apparently the Portland, Oregon police had a standard practice in place where they would pull suspicious looking packages from the mail at the USPS mail center and have a drug dog sniff the package to try to determine if there was anything illegal inside. This would happen up to 40 times a day apparently. According to Portland Police, the dog was accurate about 90% of the time. Once a dog alerted that there was something illegal in the package, the cops would deliver it to the destination and put pressure on the recipient of the package to let them look inside.
That’s what happened to Max Barnthouse. In his package was a big stack of cash, which led the police to search his house, where they found marijuana and packaging supplies. The cops arrested Max, and charged him with the usual list of charges that go with such activity. Max fought it, and at the circuit and appellate level, Max won. Per Oregon Live:
On the eve of trial in December 2012, Houze argued that the evidence should be suppressed because police violated Barnthouse’s constitutional right to be free from unlawful search and seizure.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Christopher Marshall agreed, finding that the first misstep by police was physically removing the package from the mail stream when they had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Prosecutors brought the case to the Court of Appeals — arguing that police hadn’t actually “seized” the package — that Barnthouse had no “possessory interests” in the package — because officers brought the package to his home hours before its guaranteed delivery time of noon.
The appeals court disagreed Wednesday by upholding the lower court’s decision. .
“We conclude that, for an in-transit USPS express mail package, the police may not detain such a package without probable cause and a warrant or without the existence of one of the carefully delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement,” the appeals court wrote.
I don’t recommend that anyone mail marijuana, or cash for that matter. But if you do in Oregon, know that the police in Oregon cannot randomly have a dog sniff your package, pull it, and then put the pressure on you to comply. I can’t help but wonder though how this case would have been different had the package just been monitored, yet delivered normally. I think even then, the cops would need a warrant to do an actual search. Something to point out about this case is that the suspect should have never given consent to the officers. If they threaten to get a warrant, make them do so. Giving them permission to search without a warrant is the same thing as if they had a warrant. Never give up your rights if you don’t have to.