Skip to main content

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

Submitted by Phillip Smith on
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

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.

House of Evil: the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals
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."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Human (not verified)

How do you make a meaningful comment regarding the actions of terrorists and thieves?

Tue, 08/29/2006 - 1:52pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Most people are unaware of the fact that the DEA does not receive Congressional appropriations but instead must rely on assets seized as its agents roam the countryside like the James gang. Anyone fitting racial or "terrorist" or "drug courier" profiles who is found carrying enough cash to make seizing it worthwhile is a likely target, on streets or in airports. Their obliging "drug dogs" will alert to the money (about 98% of circulating bills are contaminated with drug residues) and this "evidence" constitutes "probable cause" that the funds are the proceeds of drug deals or to be used to buy drugs, allowing the money to be seized. Cooperative Federal magistrates rubber stamp the seizures, probably for a cut of the money. Local and airport police help the DEA identify likely marks, because they too get a nice cut of the money.

For the past 7 years, the DEA has been officially directed to target pain doctors, as the purported sources of illicit prescription narcotics on the street, even though the DEA's own statistics reveal that 95% of street pain pills got there from thefts from drug companies, trucks, warehouses and pharmacies. Despite this inconvenient fact, the DEA frequently arrests pain doctors and seizes all of their assets, because doctors are much easier to find and arrest than drug dealers, and usually have nice, fat houses and retirement accounts (See article by Ronald Libby in the Cato Institute website.). The doctors may not even be charged with anything, but the DEA keeps the houses and the money. I have been just such a target, but I am vigorously fighting back. The DEA and the eager US Attorneys involved barely bother to follow required legal procedures, assuming that the victimized doctor will not have the knowledge or money to get a good attorney to fight the illegal seizures. Fortunately the Federal district judges for the most part still carefully read, understand and follow the law. Soon, I will secure the return of my assets after the Federal action against them is thrown out. I will next pursue Malicious Prosecution lawsuits against every DEA agent and US Attorney who has been involved. I believe that my case could change the whole landscape of this country.

Fri, 10/27/2006 - 2:07pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

gee, what were you doin for them to "target" you? you failed to mention that. Perhaps you are guilty of something, one key indicator for us drug interdiction officers is that we know what to look for and know they key indocators. Do you honestly think you are the only druggist who feels they have been singled out by law enforcement? Come on, quit whinning. You took the chance of losing everything when you joined in on the business. and again, what was your motivation for joining in? Money? just like the DEA or US Attorneys office. For the record, we target everyone, and for the record again, drug dealers (the real big boys) have just as much as you if not more. We do this job because we like the excitement, we like taking away what you all haven't earned honestly, and yes, we do get some of the funds. That's what helps out system grow to a better system because so many people don't work and that is tearing our communities apart. Tax payers can't possibly pay for all that is needed. That's why we're allowed to get the drug money you dope. Ya know for an obvious doctor as you call yourself, you sure don't have very much common sense.

Mon, 02/18/2008 - 4:43am Permalink
Anon (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gee u sound like a real douchbag u were all for the patriot act right helps your so called Serve and Protect mantra to serve you own PD and protect that valued state revenue so you can keep requesting that overtime keep telling yourself that's justice, doesn't matter how many laws you break to get the job done right ? Just like the State Trooper that blew thru the toll booth at 80 mph with no lights , no siren nearly rear ended me than flipped me the bird like I was the asshole for doing the posted 35 mph speed limit . Good work guys keep it up
Sat, 12/01/2012 - 12:15am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

and obviously, you have a "security" in the federal courts, and you seem to "know" you'll get off. If you do, it satisfies me to see that your entire life has been uprooted and in termoil since the seizure. Ha Ha, another one still bit the dust.

Mon, 02/18/2008 - 4:46am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Its gonna be nice to buy some cheap US property when the US economy crashes to the ground. Oh wait it allready did. buy gold and then buy your property back from the government when goldprices explode when the dollar tanks.

Sun, 06/07/2009 - 8:13am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.