Sweating heavily and wearing too much cologne apparently helped lead to the seizure of $16,000 from a California farmer who had travelled to Montana in part to buy farm equipment.
To add insult to injury, the money was taken without a warrant or charges – and helped contribute to the state’s K-9 unit.
State troopers thought Lorenzo Ayala was a drug smuggler because he was wearing a large amount of cologne and sweating heavily when they pulled him over on Interstate 90 near Livingston, Montana, in February 2013, The Billings Gazette reported. The seizure is only now becoming public. Other indications of criminal behavior included having a cluttered car, a bottle of Visine, clothes, cigarette lighters and clothes stored in plastic grocery bags.
Those signs and an expired license plate and suspended license prompted a trooper to call in a K-9 unit with a drug-sniffing dog. The K-9 unit searched Ayala’s Volkswagen Jetta and discovered $16,020 in cash that Ayala was planning to use to buy tractor parts. He also was in Montana to visit a woman he had met online.
No Drugs, No Problem for Civil Forfeiture
“Though no drugs were found in the vehicle, the odor of narcotics can linger in a vehicle and result in a positive canine alert, even after the narcotics have been removed,” District Judge Brenda Gilbert wrote in an opinion upholding the seizure.
He and his attorney say the money was not involved in anything illegal.
The Montana state law that led to the seizure of Ayala’s cash will disappear on July 1 – and cases like Ayala’s are why. That is when a new state law goes into effect that will require authorities to store and not spend confiscated cash and property until a suspect is convicted of a crime. If the person is not convicted, the cash or property will be returned.
(Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth story on the police seizure of cash here.)
Under the current Montana law, police can simply seize money if they merely suspect it was acquired illegally. No warrant or criminal charges are necessary. The Montana State Patrol has spent around $172,000 in forfeiture funds since 2013, The Billings Gazette reported.
“It’s a tremendous improvement that the government has to prove the relationship instead of forcing the person to prove there is no relationship,” Ayala’s attorney, Chris Young, said of the new law. “The burden of proof is on the right person now.”
He added, “The police ought to have to prove something before they take your stuff away. And now they do.”
Unfortunately, though, the majority of states still do not have similar laws.
‘State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado’
The legal group Institute for Justice defined civil forfeiture this way:
Civil forfeiture is a legal fiction that pretends to try inanimate objects for their involvement with criminal activity. Civil forfeiture actions are in rem proceedings, which means ‘against a thing.’ That is why civil forfeiture proceedings have bizarre titles, such as United States v. $35,651.11 in U.S. Currency, or State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado.
By suing the object, police and prosecutors can make forfeiture into a civil case. That gives them a lower standard of proof and enables authorities to take the case to civil court, where court-appointed attorneys are not available for defendants. It also allows the prosecutors to treat suspects as guilty until proven innocent.
For more information about civil forfeiture, visit EndForfeiture.com.
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