Years ago, I heard a State Trooper testify that on Interstate 80 drugs
travel East and money travels West. Back then, most interstate drug stops
involved drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin
destined for cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, or Washington
DC. While we are still regularly contacted by individuals stopped and
arrested for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and other
controlled substances on the interstate, we've seen a large spike
in the number of individuals who are stopped traveling West with large
amounts of cash. In the past, when this happened, the Federal Government
would initiate a forfeiture action and attempt to take the cash through
a civil proceeding in Federal Court.
Today, York County, Seward County, and Lancaster County have aggressively
pursued criminal forfeiture actions under Nebraska Revised Statute Section
28-416(1)(17). While it is not illegal to travel through the State of
Nebraska with a large amount of cash, it is illegal to travel through
the state with a large amount of money obtained through the sales of illegal
narcotics or intended to be used to purchase illegal drugs. The penalty
for this crime is up to five years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.
In many instances, Prosecutors in the State of Nebraska are not only seeking
to deprive the interstate motorists of their cash, but also to convict
them of a felony. Fortunately, individuals who are stopped on the interstate
have the right to challenge whether the interstate drug stop was legal.
In the event that the Court finds that the motorists' Fourth Amendment
rights were not violated, the Government still maintains the burden of
proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. While
large amounts of cash can be used for legitimate purposes, the Government
seems to take the position that interstate cash is not. Fortunately, criminal
defense attorneys with experience in this area are aware of the weakness
in the Government's interstate forfeiture cases and have had success
in protecting their client's rights.