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.
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 didnât reveal the drunk driving arrest because he didnât 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 wasnât 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."