Federal prosecutors are battling in court to keep $167,000 in cash seized in a 2013 traffic stop, despite the motorist never being charged in the incident and the Obama administration clamped down this spring on such asset seizures and forfeitures.
The case — which highlights the ongoing concerns about the government unjustly seizing money and property — began when a Nevada state trooper pulled over the motorist on a cross-country trip to California.
The trooper stopped Hawaii resident Straughn Gorman’s motor-home in January 2013 for allegedly going too slow along Interstate 80.
According to court documents, Gorman was allowed to proceed without a citation despite the trooper suspecting he was hiding cash.
The trooper said he couldn’t inspect the vehicle because he would have needed a canine unit and for the dog to detect drugs, which would have created enough probable cause to get a search warrant.
However, no canine unit was available so the trooper released Gorman but not before requesting the county sheriff’s office stop him again — about 50 minutes later and this time with a drug-sniffing dog.
No drugs were found during the second stop, in which Gorman was pulled over for two alleged traffic violation. But his vehicle, computer, cellphone and the cash, stashed throughout the vehicle, were seized.
In June, a federal judge in Nevada ordered Gorman’s cash be returned.
In his ruling, District Judge Larry Hicks cited Gorman’s “prolonged detention” for the alleged traffic violations and criticized federal authorities for failing to disclose that the first officer requested the second stop.
“The second stop was not based on independent, reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify the prolonged investigation,” wrote Hicks, a Bush administration appointee. “The two stops were for minor traffic violations, and they both were extended beyond the legitimate purposes for such traffic stops.”
Hicks also said in his ruling the second stop never would have happened if the first officer had not relayed information about the first stop, which included a vehicle description, suspicion about concealed cash and that a “canine sniff” would likely be needed to get probable cause for a search.
The federal government earlier this month appealed Hicks’ ruling in the 9th Circuit Court, in San Francisco, considered among the most liberal in the county.
Federal attorneys did not submit a reason for the appeal in their one-paragraph request, according to The Daily Signal, which first reported the request.
The court is expected to also decide whether Gorman should be reimbursed $153,000 in legal fees, which federal lawyers don’t want to pay.
The first court proceeding is scheduled for November 19.
The Justice Department earlier this year issued a series of directives to reform and restrict its policies on asset seizures and forfeitures, amid the complaints about government abuse and overreach.
Read more: Fox News