(David Goldman, Associated Press file)

Hunches and sniff tests are no reason to intercept mail, says Oregon court

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon Court of Appeals panel has ruled that a U.S. postal inspector and Portland police had no legal authority to intercept a man’s package based on their contraband hunches and a police dog’s reaction after sniffing the item.

The Oregonian reports Wednesday’s ruling is expected to affect a long-standing practice of having a postal inspector and two police officers pulling aside and examining express-mail packages at a Portland International Airport postal cargo center without first obtaining search warrants.

In 2012, police were interested in one package in part because it bore a handwritten address to a pseudonym and a narcotics detection dog found it interesting. The intended recipient eventually let police search the package and his bedroom, where court records say they found a large amount of marijuana.

The man’s lawyer argued successfully that the evidence should be suppressed. A Circuit Court judge found police had no probable cause to remove the package from the mail stream. The appeals court upheld that decision.