Throughout Nebraska, cars driving down interstate 80 will regularly be stopped by state patrol or a deputy sheriff hoping to uncover or find large amounts of cash in the vehicle or the driver’s possession. These stops are common throughout Lancaster County, Seward County, and York County. Law enforcement will then find cash in the vehicle and claim that the cash being seized is being used or will be used during a drug transaction. In these cases, not only is the cash seized, but the defendant will also be charged with a class IV felony and can be facing up to five years imprisonment. Interstate cash seizure cases are far too common for individuals driving through the state of Nebraska and it is important to understand the defendant’s rights in these cases.
What Usually Happens?
Typically, vehicles driving west on Interstate 80 with out of state license plates will be pulled over by law enforcement. These stops can be done for a variety of reasons, including following to close or failing to use a turn signal. After pulling a vehicle over, police will begin looking to see what is present in the vehicle and if there is cash visible. If cash is found, law enforcement will begin questioning the vehicle driver and passengers about where they are headed and why they were in possession of the cash. The main goal of these officers is to find a criminal activity (often drug related) that they can use to seize the cash. Law enforcement can do this through many different means, such as:
- Looking through the occupants’ cell phone records
- statements from the defendant
- searches of the vehicle
After questioning the individuals, the officers will look to gain consent to search the vehicle. If no consent is given and no reasonable reasons to search the vehicle are found, law enforcement will oftentimes contact a drug dog, otherwise known as a police service dog. The police service dog will sniff the vehicle to determine if there is an odor of narcotics*. If the service dogs indicate that a drug odor is present, then law enforcement will search the vehicle. The searches by law enforcement can turn up scales, baggies, suitcases with drug residue, containers with drug residue, or many other items that could be used as evidence in court. If any of these items are found, the defendant will be charged with a Class IV Felony among other charges and will be taken to jail.
*It is important to understand that narcotics dogs can be trained to smell for the odor of a variety of drugs, which can include:
Why Do These Stops Happen?
Searches like these are common in vehicles traveling westbound on Interstate 80 where no contraband is found, but large amounts of cash are in the vehicle. Law enforcement can then claim that the money and/or the containers and other miscellaneous items discovered in the vehicle during a search have the odor of narcotics in them. By connecting the money to a criminal act, law enforcement can seize the cash and file criminal charges against the defendant.
The Problem with the Current Process
What the government and most law enforcement officials fail to recognize, however, is that the defendant has the right to independently test the cash for the odor of narcotics as well. Although the defendant has the right to test the cash, they are often unable to due to what law enforcement does with the cash. Law enforcement often destroys the evidence prior to giving the defendant an opportunity to independently test the currency for the odor of drugs.
How the Evidence is Destroyed
In these situations, law enforcement does not actually destroy the cash. Instead, the cash is often taken to a bank and placed into an account. By doing this, the cash is recirculated into the stream of commerce, making it impossible for the defendant to get an opportunity to do an independent test for narcotics. When law enforcement does this, some of the evidence in the case may be called into question and not permitted at trial. In fact, in a recent case in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Berry Law Firm drug attorney was able to argue that without the right to independently test the cash, the evidence in question could be kept out. The judge agreed with the attorney that there is a right to an independent test and some of the evidence pertaining to the odor of marijuana was not permitted at trial.
If you have been a victim of interstate cash seizure, Berry Law may be able to assist you. While these cases are becoming more and more common, interstate cash seizures are often complicated cases where Berry Law’s drug attorneys can help significantly. If you or somebody you know is facing charges relating to an interstate cash seizure by law enforcement, contact Berry Law Firm at 402.466.8444 for a consultation.