In perhaps one of the most offensive cases of civil forfeiture, federal prosecutors are fighting to keep $167,000 in cash seized during a traffic stop, despite no crime being committed and a judge ordering it be returned in June.
Straughn Gorman was on a cross country trip to California in his motor home when he was pulled over by a Nevada state trooper for allegedly driving too slow on the interstate.
During the stop, the trooper decided he suspected Gorman was hiding money, but no police dog units were available to come to the scene and help him obtain probable cause for a search.
Refusing to let a little thing like “the law” get in the way of a hunch, the determined trooper requested that the county sheriff’s office stop him again with a police dog.
Gorman was stopped again, approximately 50 minutes later for two alleged traffic violations and searched after a police dog alerted to drugs. No drugs were found in his motor home, but they did find approximately $167,000 stashed throughout it.
Despite there not being any evidence of a crime – his vehicle, computer, cellphone and the cash, were seized. Apparently keeping your cash instead of throwing it in a bank is a crime.
In June, a judge called out the feds for failing to disclose that the trooper involved in the initial stop had requested he be stopped a second time, as well as the prolonged investigation beyond the simple traffic violations he was allegedly pulled over for.
“The second stop was not based on independent, reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the prolonged investigation,” wrote District Judge Larry Hicks. “The two stops were for minor traffic violations, and they both were extended beyond the legitimate purposes for such traffic stops.”
Judge Hicks pointed out that the second stop would not have even happened if the first trooper had not provided them with all of the information and alerted them that they needed to find a reason to search the vehicle.
In August, federal attorney’s appealed the judge’s ruling that the money needs to be returned.
The next court hearing on the matter is scheduled for November 19, and it is also expected to be decided whether or not the federal government will have to reimburse Gorman $153,000 for legal fees he has incurred while trying to get his stolen money back.
In January, the Justice Department announced that federal agencies could no longer take property such as cash or vehicles from local law enforcement unless they are “directly related to public safety concerns,” such as firearms and child pornography.