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Officials Seizing Money from People Travelling to California

indoors-light-locomotive-2934282-300x158Curtis Simmons, a 32-year-old man from Elkridge, Maryland, was stopped by two unarmed officials on June 17th, 2019. Simmons was in the JetBlue kiosk area at Fort Lauderdale International Airport in Broward County, Florida. He had a direct flight to Los Angeles at 7:15 PM, having “missed [his] flight the day before.” 

Simmons was approached by the detectives, who were officials of the Narcotics and Money Laundering Task Force. The task force is led by Florida’s Broward County’s Sheriff’s Office. The civil forfeiture report filed for Simmons’ case stated that, after being questioned, Simmons allowed the cops to search his luggage: a carry-on suitcase and a backpack.

According to the same report, the officials had approached Simmons due to “a strong odor of cannabis.” Simmons claimed that while he had smoked marijuana earlier that day, he was not intoxicated. Although he does not have a medical prescription, Simmons stated that he used weed to relieve work-related pain. While recreational use is not legal in Maryland, cannabis use is largely decriminalized in the state. 

While the search did not reveal any illegal marijuana or other drugs, the police did find about $11,290 in cash. About $6,290 was on Simmons’ person and about $5,000 was found in a pair of jeans in his suitcase. 

After finishing the search, the officials concluded that Simmons was “exhibiting signs of deception and untruthfulness.” According to the report, the police found alleged inconsistencies in Simmons’ statements about when he purchased his ticket and the amount of money he had. Therefore, the officials seized the money under civil forfeiture laws.

Civil forfeiture is when law enforcement officials seize money, property, and other assets from people suspected of illegal activities. Civil forfeiture does not require actively charging an individual with a crime. Many people criticize civil forfeiture, claiming that it is subject to abuse. 

Simmons is not the only case of civil forfeiture of this kind. About 15 similar cases have been filed with the Broward County court since 2016. All these cases were against individuals who ‘smelled’ like cannabis and had a large amount of money on them, even though medical marijuana is legal in Florida.

In every case, the individual was traveling on a one-way ticket to California and was stopped by a police officer, seemingly at random. In the consequent reports, the police officials reported the individual as vague and misleading. 

Over the past three years, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office has confiscated $189,678 through these civil forfeiture cases. In 14 out of the 15 cases, no individual was arrested nor charged with drug-trafficking. 

Civil forfeiture usually happens during an ongoing criminal investigation or a traffic search where the on-scene police officer has probable cause to perform a search. According to Florida law, law-enforcement agencies are required to file civil forfeiture complaints in civil court, presenting evidence that was used to establish probable cause. 

However, in civil forfeiture cases, the owner can contest the seizure by proving that the money/assets were earned via legal means. Police agencies depend on a lack of public knowledge to avoid having individuals contest their civil forfeiture complaints. 

Cases like these have been occurring frequently in states from Arkansas to North Dakota.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of these unlawful searches and seizures, you should hire a lawyer. Contact us today to take the first step towards the best possible legal outcome for you.

Source: 9.9.2019 These Cops Are Seizing Cash from People Who Smell Like Weed Before They Fly to California.pdf