After being stopped for allegedly driving too slow, a Hawaiian man named Straughn Gorman was allowed to go on his way. But less than 40 minutes later, he was once again pulled over. As it turns-out the first officer had arranged for a different cop, one with a drug-sniffing dog, to stop Gorman again.
The highway patrolman didn't have probable cause to search Gorman's motor home which he suspected might have carried contraband. So the trooper called down the road to the Elko Sheriff's Department and suggested that if an officer with a drug dog stopped the RV, the dog might give them probable cause to conduct a search.
The police had no reason to suspect Gorman of a serious crime and while no drugs were present in the car, the drug dog did pick up something on the $167,000 in cash that was in the motor home.
Police seized the money under the "Notorious Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws".
Civil forfeiture laws are often considered controversial. It’s the legal process in which law enforcement officers take possessions from people suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with any wrongdoing. Then owners must prove it was not involved in criminal activity to get it back.
In this case the officers seized Gorman’s RV, camera, cell phone, computer, and most of his other belongings. They allowed him to have $192 in cash and his credit card, then said “you’re free to go.”
Gorman was not charged with a crime, but federal prosecutors sought to keep the money, and after being ordered to return it, they appealed.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has upheld the lower court ruling. Prosecutors have to return the money to Gorman after finding that the steps taken to search his vehicle in 2013 amounted to an effort to get around Gorman’s right to be free from unreasonable searches.
Gorman’s lawyer, Vincent Savarese, noted the appeals court characterized the one-after-another stops as “impermissible gamesmanship” by officers buying time to get a drug-sniffing dog to search the vehicle.
The Associated Press Contributed to this Report
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