aka: Just Another Day in the War On Drugs
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.
Associates of Gonzolez testified in court that they had pooled their life savings to purchase a refrigerated truck to start a produce business. Gonzolez flew on a one-way ticket to Chicago to buy a truck, but it had sold by the time he had arrived. Without a credit card of his own, he had a third-party rent one for him. Gonzolez hid the money in a cooler to keep it from being noticed and stolen. He was scared when the troopers began questioning him about it. There was no evidence disputing Gonzolez’s story.
Yesterday the Eighth Circuit summarily dismissed Gonzolez’s story. It overturned a lower court ruling that had found no evidence of drug activity, stating, “We respectfully disagree and reach a different conclusion… Possession of a large sum of cash is ‘strong evidence’ of a connection to drug activity.”
The man was never charged with a crime. There was no proof offered or required that he was in any way connected to the drug trade. But in our war on drugs, that doesn’t matter. And he and his business associates are out their entire life savings.
Now, I don’t know whether his story is on the level. I’ll freely admit that someone driving a rented car not in his name, carrying $124,700 in cash, is a little suspicious. But who holds the burden of proof? If the government is going to confiscate $124,700, I’d say the onus is on them. But in the war on drugs, you have to prove your innocence. The government can come in, destroy your life, confiscate your property, and unless you prove a negative, the best you can do is ask nicely for them to make it right.
I wish I could say that any of this surprised me. But in the war on drugs, not much surprises me any more. I’ve stopped expecting anything approaching justice or common sense. It’s but one more example of our government disregarding the Constitution, disregarding individual rights, and disregarding sanity, in the quest for ever-greater power. I fear that it will get worse before it gets better, and in the meantime, I can only hope that nobody I know or care about gets hoisted on the pike as the next “victory” in the war on drugs.
But don’t just take my word for it. Below is a video from LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), a group of current and former law enforcement personnel. As the people who have spent years as the front-line force in the war on drugs, they’ve seen firsthand exactly what has been accomplished. A string of destroyed lives, non-violent people in jail, violent people enriched by the illicit drug trade, and at the end of the day, not a whit of improvement in the proportion of our population who are addicted to drugs.
How long do we have to continue this before we can finally admit it’s not working?
Hat Tip to Radley Balko on the video. If you’re also fed up with the damage to our society, our Constitution, and our civil liberties caused by this useless “war”, please pass this video along.
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