Defendant was observed driving a vehicle with a cracked windshield and a broken driver's side rear tail lens. He was stopped by the police for equipment violations and was asked various questions which indicated that he might be transporting money from an illegal drug transaction. Police asked if they could search the car and the defendant refused. A K9 unit (Certified Narcotics Detector) was then brought to the scene and alerted inside the vehicle under the driver's seat where a bag containing $9500 in cash was located. The defendant denied that the bag belonged to him. He was placed under arrest, the car was impounded, and the cash was seized as suspected drug proceeds.
The money was tested by the local police lab and was positive for THC.
The expert was contacted by defendant's attorney and asked to review the case and provide an affidavit.
The affidavit resulted in the case being dismissed.
The expert reviewed all of the facts and circumstances and a portion of the affidavit follows:
"During my 27 years experience as a Special Agent with the U.S. Air Force OSI and the FBI, I conducted arrests and properly authorized searches of persons, vehicles, residences, businesses and other locations. My experience in these matters determined that illegal drugs, drug residue, and/or large sums of U.S. currency were commonly found in all types of arrests and searches . . . . The discovery of drugs, drug residue, and currency in vehicles, residences, and businesses does not necessarily mean that persons at those locations were involved in illegal activity. For example, I am aware of situations in which illegal drugs would be "planted" at a particular location by criminals so that anyone at that location might be suspected of or arrested for illegal activity."
"My personal investigation of the topic "marihuana residue" on January 2, 2007, located a study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology (Volume 28, Number 6, September 2004, pp. 439-442) titled "Cannabis (Marijuana) Contamination of United States and Foreign Paper Currency" by Eric S. Lavins, Bethany D. Lavins, and Amanda J. Jenkins which stated that, "It is well known that United States paper currency in general circulation is contaminated with trace amounts of illicit substances such as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana." The study randomly collected 165 bills of paper currency from 12 cities and four foreign countries."
"I am personally aware that in United States v. $30,060, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that "a drug dog alert has little probative value in showing that cash was connected to drug trafficking". United States v. $30,060, 94 C.D.O.S. 8532, (U.S. Ct. of App. for 9th Cir. # 92-55919, filed Nov. 8, 1994)."
The transportation of tainted money in a vehicle is problematic for police officers especially when the defendant is providing answers to questions that raise their suspicions. The police are obligated to conduct further investigation to substantiate their beliefs. Finding tainted money in a vehicle does not necessarily mean that probable cause has been established to arrest the defendant and impound his vehicle. Money in general circulation may be contaminated with illegal substances so the police need to find other evidence of violations of Federal and state drug laws before they make an arrest and impound a vehicle.
Dan L. Vogel is a retired FBI Special Agent with 25 years of service. During his last 15 years with the FBI, he served as Coordinator, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in the Oklahoma City office. 405-615-6877 firstname.lastname@example.org
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