Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jul 2015
Source: Elko Daily Free Press (NV)
Copyright: 2015 Elko Daily Free Press


A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling should be the final nail in the
coffin for the type of drug-interdiction cash seizures that have
generated so much bad publicity in Northern Nevada.

Nobody likes to see the bad guys get away, but even more important is
Americans' constitutional right to protection from unreasonable
searches and seizures.

An Elko County case involving more than $167,000 taken from a Delaware
RV during a traffic stop was held up in federal court earlier this
year pending a ruling in Rodriguez v. United States. In April, the
Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement cannot prolong traffic stops
to wait for drug-sniffing dogs to arrive and inspect vehicles when
there is no probable cause to do so. Justices said police cannot
detain drivers after issuing them a ticket, even if a driver appears

Rodriguez was detained for about eight minutes before the dog alerted
to the presence of drugs.

The Elko County case was a bit more complicated, and ended up being
based on an earlier ruling out of 9th Circuit Court.

At first, it seemed like a slam-dunk. Bundles of cash were recovered
after a drug-sniffing dog from the sheriff's office hit on a vehicle
headed to a known marijuana-growing haven in California. The money was
turned over to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Attorney's
office initiated court proceedings to make the confiscation official.

But now, instead of a $167,000 windfall, Uncle Sam will likely be
paying nearly that much to cover the defendant's attorney fees, in
addition to returning the money.


Federal prosecutors failed to mention that the RV had been pulled over
by a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper near Wells prior to the stop made
by the sheriff's deputy.

According to court records, the RV was being driven below the speed
limit in the fast lane. During the stop, the trooper's suspicions were
aroused by how the driver answered certain questions, so he called for
a K-9 but one was not available in Wells.

After telling the driver he would not be issued a ticket and was free
to leave, the trooper began asking additional questions, and the
driver's answers raised suspicion that he might be carrying large
amounts of cash.

The trooper then let the driver proceed, and called dispatch about his
suspicions. He said a K-9 would be needed to establish probable cause,
and suggested that a sheriff's deputy might be interested in stopping
the vehicle. By the time the RV made it to Elko, a deputy with dog was
waiting to pull it over.

The government lost this case not because of the prolonged and
protracted nature of the traffic stops - although that was certainly
an issue - it was lost because the U.S. Attorney failed to present all
of the facts related to the stops.

In other words, it failed due to a technicality, but one that is
intended "to deter police misconduct and to preserve the integrity of
the courts."

Rodriguez v. United States went a step further in solidifying our
Fourth Amendment protections, and we believe both cases will put a
damper on future drug-interdiction cash seizures.

This presents a challenge for law enforcement agencies, which will
need to find new strategies in the "cat and mouse game" of combating
illegal drug trafficking.
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