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Police Seize Money From Vehicle Driver Based on Odor of Marijuana

The Florida forfeiture laws allow the government, in the form of police, to seize property from people in many circumstances. When the police seize property, whether it is money, a vehicle, electronics, or anything else the police would like to have, they have to file paperwork with the court to institute forfeiture proceedings. In those forfeiture proceedings, the state has to prove the property was used to facilitate some criminal transaction, was actual proceeds from a criminal transaction like drug sales or were otherwise connected to a criminal transaction.

In many cases, the property seized and forfeited is cash that is found in relation to an actual drug deal. In those cases, it can be difficult to recover the money seized by the police. However, the state has seemingly become a lot more brazen in their attempts to seize and forfeit property from Florida citizens. We have seen more and more cases where the police seize and attempt to forfeit large sums of money even though no one was arrested. It seems odd that the police can seize a person’s money or other property when the police do not think enough about what may have happened to even make a criminal arrest. However, there are many cases where the police take money or other property but do not bother to make an arrest.

In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police were patrolling along I-95 looking for a certain profile they believed fit the description of people transporting illegal drugs. In Florida, that usually means minorities, rental cars and/or out of state license plates. They stopped a driver and issued him a warning for driving too closely to another vehicle. The police asked the driver if he had any drugs in the vehicle, and he indicated he did not. The police then walked a drug dog around the vehicle, and the dog allegedly alerted to the odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle. The police officer then searched the vehicle and found no drugs or anything else illegal in the vehicle. They did find several thousand dollars in cash in the vehicle, and seized that cash. Because there was obviously no crime committed, the police officer did not arrest the driver.

The state is attempting to forfeit the money by arguing that the drug dog alerted to an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle so there must have been drugs in the vehicle at some point. Nevermind that the dog may be wrong or drugs could have been in the vehicle at a time unrelated to the money being in the vehicle. In other words, the government did not like the idea of a minority with a certain amount of cash and decided they would rather have it. The fact that no crime was being committed and there was no direct evidence that any drugs were present with the money was immaterial to the police.

Our position is that the state cannot take a person’s money based on the allegation that drugs may have been in a vehicle at some point and money was later found in the vehicle, and all of the money should be returned.