There’s a harsh lesson in this day and age: only carry credit cards or travelers checks unless you want to be a drug suspect and have your cash confiscated.

This is one of those cases that you can understand how it all happened, but you’d never expect a court to uphold the action taken by the police:

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case entitled, “United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a “lack of significant criminal history” neither accused nor convicted of any crime.

On May 28, 2003, a Nebraska state trooper signaled Gonzolez to pull over his rented Ford Taurus on Interstate 80. The trooper intended to issue a speeding ticket, but noticed the Gonzolez’s name was not on the rental contract. The trooper then proceeded to question Gonzolez — who did not speak English well — and search the car. The trooper found a cooler containing $124,700 in cash, which he confiscated. A trained drug sniffing dog barked at the rental car and the cash. For the police, this was all the evidence needed to establish a drug crime that allows the force to keep the seized money.

Having your drug sniffing dog bark at a rental car and assuming the driver is a drug dealer is like assuming the guy who just left Paris Hilton’s bedroom is automatically going to be the father of the baby.

True, over a hundred grand is a lot of cash to be carrying, but if this were Donald Trump, would the police have acted differently? If the answer is “yes” (or “duh”) then we as “regular” Americans have a problem that isn’t being helped by the courts.

Here’s the entire ruling (pdf file) including Judge Lay’s dissent, in which he points out the common-sensicle fact that this was a rental car. Common sense is all too often relegated to the dissenting opinions in courts these days.

Richie Rich: Wanted on suspicion of drug dealing.


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