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.