On February 18, 2016, armed police raided the business and home of Maricel and Paul Fullerton in Woodland, California. In what looked like a major drug bust, police seized 22 pounds of processed cannabis, firearms, and $55,000 in cash. The only thing that seemed odd was that Maricel works as a hospice nurse, while Paul is a retired fire captain.
For two and a half years, the Fullertons fought to clear their names and repossess their property and cash. This month, the Fullertons finally won their civil asset forfeiture case which sought the return of the money.
Paul worked as a firefighter for 25 years before a spinal cord injury left him with three metal plates and twelve screws in his neck. He took early retirement, and Paul began using medical marijuana as a means of coping with the pain.
In 2012, he opened a store, the Lil’ Shop of Growers, which sold plant growing products, focusing on marijuana growing. Acting on a tip-off that Paul was selling large quantities of marijuana from his store, the police began to investigate him.
The police claimed Paul sold an undercover officer 1.7 grams of marijuana. They further claimed Paul promised to sell the officer an additional $300 of marijuana. Paul says the officer attempted to bait him with an emotional story; he also said that he tried to give the officer the marijuana for free. It was the officer, Paul claimed, who thrust unsolicited money into Paul’s hand. Unsure what to do with the cash, Paul put it in an old fireman’s boot he kept on his desk, something he used to collect cash for charity.
As a result of the raids, the Fullertons faced drug-sales charges in addition to weapons-related charges and child endangerment. “They took my daughter away,” said Marciel. “It’s scary that they can just wrongfully charge people. I’m in constant fear of what’s going to happen to us—to my daughter.” Part of the justification for the child-endangerment charge was that the gun safe in the Fullerton’s home had been left unlocked—something the Fullertons say was because the police themselves had unlocked it.
The money was seized using a process known as civil asset forfeiture, a legal procedure which means law enforcement is able to take cash or property without a criminal conviction or, in many states, without even charging the owners with a crime. It was the Fullerton’s responsibility to prove the $55,000 was legally obtained. They were able to prove ownership of $53,000. Part of the remaining $2,000 had been savings for vacation; the rest came from the private sale of car parts.
In the end, Paul made a plea deal with the DA. He pleaded no contest to possession of marijuana for sale and agreed to forfeit the $2,000. In return, all other charges were dropped.
“This proves how bunk the criminal case was,” said Paul. “They don’t give drug dealers back their money. Enough said.”
While the Fullertons did win, they have spent around $100,000 in fines and legal fees so far. They are still fighting for the return of the other items seized, which included weapons, processed cannabis, and personal electronics.
“My daughter is eight now, and she is scared of police officers now. I don’t want my daughter to be scared of police officers,” said Paul. “It’s just very disheartening.”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.