Found on the web here
Court rules 2003 money seizure correct despite no drugs found
OMAHA (AP) -- Authorities were correct to assume nearly $125,000 they seized from a man's car during a traffic stop may have been connected to narcotics trafficking, despite finding no drugs in the vehicle, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
The ruling from the three-judge panel overturned an earlier decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Thalken in Nebraska in the case of Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez. A state trooper stopped Gonzolez for speeding on Interstate 80 on May 28, 2003.
Gonzolez was driving a car that he told officers had been rented by a man named "Luis." Gonzolez also said he had never been arrested and that he was not carrying drugs, guns or large amounts of money.
After Gonzolez consented, the car was searched and $124,700 in cash was found in a cooler in the back seat. Authorities also learned that Gonzolez had once been arrested for driving while intoxicated and that the person registered as having rented the car was not named "Luis."
A drug dog later detected the scent of narcotics on the money and seat where the money was found.
Gonzolez testified that he lied about having the money because he believed that carrying large sums of money might be illegal. He said he secreted it inside the cooler because he feared it could be stolen while he was on the road.
He planned on using the money to buy a refrigerated truck in Chicago, Gonzolez said, but after arriving there by airplane from California he learned the truck had been sold. He decided to rent a car and drive back to California but needed someone else to rent the car because he had no credit card, he said.
Gonzolez also said he didn't tell officers about his previous arrest because he didn't think driving while intoxicated was a crime.
A federal judge in Nebraska said the evidence was not strong enough to link the money to drug trafficking, but the 8th Circuit Court on Thursday disagreed.
"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."
In dissent, Judge Donald Lay said the evidence provided was not enough to conclude the money was used in 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. "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."
Two things bother me here. First, a man with no criminal history and no evidence linking him to any crime has had his cash confiscated by police who refuse to return it. Second, the article leads off with the phrase "Authorities were correct to assume nearly $125,000 ... may have been connected to narcotics trafficking..." when the correctness of that assumption is still in question and a matter of appeal.
The point of the article (to me) is that a man's cash was seized when he was arrested for speeding. He was never charged with a crime related to the cash or the stop, no narcotics or paraphernalia were ever found on him or the vehicle he drove, he had a totally plausible explanation for the cash and his whereabouts, and inconsistencies in his story are equally likely to have been caused by language barrier as by intent to deceive.
Now, I really am glad the police searched the man's car. He was speeding in a rental car which wasn't in his name and he had a big whack o'cash hidden inside a cooler in the back seat and a drug sniffing dog "alerted" on the vehicle. That's a little suspicious, to me, and grounds for search. It's not a crime, however, and there was no evidence that any crime was in progress or had been committed. Sure, it's possible, but it's also possible the guy really was trying to buy a refrigerator truck.
How much cash does it take to be "suspicious"? If I'm carrying a $20,000 cashier's check because I'm on my way to buy a new motorcycle (hey! a girl can dream...) is that suspicious? If I'm carrying $5,000 in cash because I'm going to be on a long trip and I'm not sure I'll be able to get to an ATM, is that suspicious? The implications of this ruling for people who prefer to do their business with paper money are frightening. Now, personally, I'm too absent-minded to carry large sums of cash with me. I far prefer to carry a bank card and take my chances with the ATM. However, when I'm traveling, I always make sure I've got cash hidden somewhere on my person in case of emergency. As snopes.com can confirm a large amount of the money in circulation these days has cocaine on it. That means that anyone carrying cash could find a drug-sniffing dog "alerting" on their money clip, depending on how recently any of their bills have been in contact with someone's used straw.
This article is also covered here and here in more bloggy style. I chose the link I did for it's AP credentials, even though I take issue with the writing, as noted above.