Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture: Federal Appeal Upholds Seizure of Cash Despite
Lack of Drugs

Article from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #441, June 23, 2006

A federal appeals court has held that police acted within the law when
they seized nearly $125,000 in cash from a man’s car during a traffic
stop, even though no drugs were found in the car. A three-judge panel
from the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in US v. $124,700 in US
Currency that the cash may have been linked to the drug trade,
overturning an earlier decision by a US Magistrate Court judge in
Nebraska.

Emilio Gonzolez was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 80 in 2003.
Gonzolez told the officer the car he was driving had been rented by
someone named Luis, that he had never been arrested, and that he was not
carrying drugs, guns, or large sums of money. Gonzolez then consented to
a search of the vehicle, which turned up $124,700 in cash in a cooler on
the back seat. Police also learned that Gonzolez had been arrested for
drunk driving and that the person who rented the car was not named Luis.
Police then sicced a drug dog on the vehicle, and the dog alerted on the
cash and on the seat where it was sitting.

In court, Gonzolez testified that he had flown from California to
Chicago and planned to use the cash to buy a refrigerated truck there,
but when he arrived there, the truck had already been sold. He decided to
drive back to California, but needed someone to rent a car because he had
no credit card, he testified. Gonzolez said he lied about having the
money because he feared carrying large amounts of cash could be illegal
and he hid it in the cooler because he was afraid it might be stolen. He
testified that he didn’t reveal the drunk driving
arrest because he didn’t think drunk driving was a
crime.

Gonzolez’ tale may have been barely credible, but any positive
evidence linking his stash of cash to drug trafficking was hard to come
by. Still, the appeals court overturned the original decision. “We
believe that the evidence as a whole demonstrates… that there was a
substantial connection between the currency and a drug trafficking
offense,” the court wrote. “We have adopted the commonsense view that
bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with
other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and
drug trafficking.”

That wasn’t good enough for dissenting Judge Donald
Lay, who argued that there was no evidence linking the cash to drug
trafficking. “At most, the evidence presented suggests the money seized
may have been involved in some illegal activity — activity that is
incapable of being ascertained on the record before us,” Lay wrote.

But what about the drug dog alerting on the cash and the car seat?
“Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence
of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps
scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the
fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was
discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance
offense,” Lay reasoned.

San Diego attorney Donald Yates, who represents Gonzolez, told the
Associated Press they would appeal the decision. People who do not have
credit or bank accounts and who must do business in cash are being
treated unfairly, he said. “They do not allow for anybody to have a
lifestyle different from the average person in Nebraska.”

Source: http://stopthedrugwar.org


Federal Appeals Court: Driving With Money is a Crime Eighth Circuit
Appeals Court ruling says police may seize cash from motorists even in
the absence of any evidence that a crime has been committed.

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying
large sums of money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the
case entitled, “United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency,”
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash
away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a “lack of significant
criminal history” neither accused nor convicted of any crime.

On May 28, 2003, a Nebraska state trooper signaled Gonzolez to pull
over his rented Ford Taurus on Interstate 80. The trooper intended to
issue a speeding ticket, but noticed the Gonzolez’s name was not on the
rental contract. The trooper then proceeded to question Gonzolez — who
did not speak English well — and search the car. The trooper found a
cooler containing $124,700 in cash, which he confiscated. A trained drug
sniffing dog barked at the rental car and the cash. For the police, this
was all the evidence needed to establish a drug crime that allows the
force to keep the seized money.

Associates of Gonzolez testified in court that they had pooled their
life savings to purchase a refrigerated truck to start a produce
business. Gonzolez flew on a one-way ticket to Chicago to buy a truck,
but it had sold by the time he had arrived. Without a credit card of his
own, he had a third-party rent one for him. Gonzolez hid the money in a
cooler to keep it from being noticed and stolen. He was scared when the
troopers began questioning him about it. There was no evidence disputing
Gonzolez’s story.

Yesterday the Eighth Circuit summarily dismissed Gonzolez’s story. It
overturned a lower court ruling that had found no evidence of drug
activity, stating, “We respectfully disagree and reach a different
conclusion… Possession of a large sum of cash is ‘strong evidence’ of a
connection to drug activity.”

Judge Donald Lay found the majority’s reasoning faulty and issued a
strong dissent.

“Notwithstanding the fact that claimants seemingly suspicious
activities were reasoned away with plausible, and thus presumptively
trustworthy, explanations which the government failed to contradict or
rebut, I note that no drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug records were
recovered in connection with the seized money,” Judge Lay wrote. “There
is no evidence claimants were ever convicted of any drug-related crime,
nor is there any indication the manner in which the currency was bundled
was indicative of drug use or distribution.”

“Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the
presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens,
perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled
with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the
currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled
substance offense,” Judge Lay Concluded.

Source: US v. $124,700 (US Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit,
8/19/2006) http://www.thenewspaper.com/

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