Try as he might, Nevada State Trooper Greg Monroe could not come up with a sufficient reason to search Straughn Gorman’s RV. It seems almost impossible to believe, but it’s true. And yet, his tenacity was a thing to marvel, as his own personal lack of imagination manifested in his sloughing the chance to search off on Elko County Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Fisher, who did the dirty and hit the jackpot.
At Techdirt, Tim Cushing explains the decision in United States v. $167,070 in United States Currency:
It begins with the flimsiest of “reasonable suspicion” and heads downhill after that. Straughn Gorman was driving across Nevada in his RV when he was pulled over for a “left-lane violation” — driving too slow in the passing lane. (This itself isn’t actually a moving violation, but the Supreme Court’s Heien decision has ensured that law enforcement needn’t be slowed by actual knowledge of the laws they’re supposed to be enforcing.)
So that it’s clear, RVs are search magnets. They’re often chock full of fun stuff to seize, whether illegal or something shiny for the kids on their birthdays. Either way, it’s always sound practice to stop an RV and see what bounty it holds.
This lead to some questioning, because reasons:
Upon request, Gorman produced his license and registration and told Monroe that he was traveling to Sacramento, California to visit “his chick.” Id. at 60:9-61:5. Gorman told Monroe that his girlfriend lived in downtown Sacramento, but was not able to produce her exact address, noting that it was entered into his GPS system. Id. at 84:2- 22. Gorman’s use of the word “chick” aroused Monroe’s suspicion that Gorman’s answers were rehearsed because Monroe thought that “chick” was an unusual word for a person Gorman’s age—thirty-one at the time of the stop—to use.
Obsolete vernacular = “reasonable suspicion.”
To be fair, it may be that Monroe was deeply sensitive to sexist language, and was shocked and appalled at Gorman’s use of such an objectifying word as “chick.” Or, that was the best he could come up with, and it wasn’t much.
After getting Gorman to give up that he had some cash on him, $2 grand, but refusing to bend to Monroe’s will, Gorman hit the road. So Monroe called his law enforcement buddy Fisher to “relay his suspicions.” As luck would have it, Fisher then decided it would be a good moment to go out on “roving patrol” and see if any RVs came into view. And damn, if it wasn’t Gorman’s!
Fisher left the Sheriff’s Office ostensibly to perform a “roving patrol,” but soon decided to park himself on the side of the highway in order to catch Gorman when his RV passed by. Fisher pulled the RV over after it “crossed the fog line” a few times.
Having been stopped for a second time in under an hour, Gorman was understandably annoyed. He told Fisher the same thing he had told Monroe during his twenty-minute stop earlier. Fisher ran the same records checks and received the same lack of anything actionable. Despite this, Fisher pushed for a canine search.
[A]pproximately twelve minutes into the traffic stop, Fisher released his drug-detection canine “Euros” from his vehicle. Fisher and Euros then approached the motor home and began walking around it in the clockwise direction, starting at the rear left-hand side of the vehicle. As Fisher and Euros circled the rear of the motorhome, Euros sat down near the vehicle’s back right compartment, facing the compartment. Fisher described this as a “committed sit and stare,” which he considered to be a positive alert.
The dog’s reaction is curious in this case, proving that when a dog gets excited, sniffs and claws, there are drugs in a vehicle. And when the dog doesn’t, there are drugs in the vehicle. Which is no doubt why the Supreme Court has reposed ultimate faith in our constitutional rights in dogs (or they’re just dyslexic, and thought it was God. Who can say for sure?).
Based on the probable cause established by the dog’s alert (or vacant stare, as the case may be), a warrant was obtained, without mention of Monroe’s earlier stop or information, and a search revealed that Gorman’s RV contained $167,070 in United States Currency. Hence, the name of the case.
The only thing “illegal” in Gorman’s motorhome was $167,000 in cash, stashed away in the freezer, microwave and bedroom. Gorman was (for the third time in under two hours) free to go. But his money wasn’t.
Unlike many cases of
highway robbery asset seizures, the amount involved here made it worth Gorman’s while to pursue, and fight he did. Notably, had there only been $2,000 in the RV, walking away would have been the rational business decision, as the cost of fighting the government for its return would have exceeded the amount involved. That’s one of the aspects of asset forfeiture that makes it so nefarious.
In addition, Gorman’s fight reflects the fact that he was willing to subject himself to the investigation the government was certainly going to perform. While they may have let him drive off into the sunset without his cash, there is no chance someone claiming $167,070 in United States Currency wasn’t going to be subject to a full colonoscopy (law enforcement, not medical, version) for having the temerity to demand its return.
With the will, and ability, to fight, District Court Judge Larry Hicks ripped the government for the level upon level of lies used to get, and then try to salvage, the seizure. Tim quotes at length from the decision, going through each “omission” along the way, and ultimately ending here:
The court sums it up succinctly while ordering the government to hand over not only Gorman’s original $167,000, but attorney’s fees as well.
Gorman is undoubtedly the successful party here.