For $167,000, You Too Can Call A Woman A “Chick”

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.

Undoubtedly, indeed.

32 thoughts on “For $167,000, You Too Can Call A Woman A “Chick”

  1. Not Jim Ardis

    without mention of Monroe’s earlier stop or information

    And, in fact, flat out lying to the judge.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Dames are cool and all but a properly equipped chick is nearly universally more patient.

        Pro Tip: Always buy your chick a hula-hoop. They spice things up while waiting-out a limitless number of inconveniences.

        Everything from a garden variety roadside searche to the reading material in the reception room of your attorney’s office can benefit from rhythmic a hula-hoop twirl and there is positively nothing as sexy as a hula-hoop twirl in open court after you hear that the government will be picking up your attorney’s fees.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i1uIE4Qmsr4

        P.S. Still looking for an Independence Day contest?

        How about a bifurcated winners pool. A $500 Monopoly bill to whoever submits the earliest and latest dated photos of one of these checks issued by the government for the reimbursement of legal fees?
        I always wanted to know who signs those things?

        P.S. Why is it CDL’s don’t take high resolution color photo copies of those checks and hang them in frames behind their desks instead of their diplomas?

  2. Levi

    Hypothetically, if one were to draft a constitutional amendment that would do away with civil forfeiture entirely, in what way would the language of that amendment differ from the existing language of the Fifth? “We mean it this time”?

    1. SHG Post author

      You know what makes in rem civil asset forfeiture constitutional?

      The court said so. Of course, that was back when it was only used against drug kingpins, and nobody gave a damn except those of us actually fighting against it. It was a lonely time.

    2. syme

      I suppose my solution [Which is give 100% of any seized assets to the public defender’s office, thus eliminating any Caesar’s Wife inference..] would not be very popular…..

      1. Levi

        Even then… “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t think Syme’s point was that it would be any more lawful, but that it would eliminate the incentive for police to seize assets and would spell the death of forfeiture.

          1. syme

            Not just merely that the cops cease getting new off-the-book toys, but their moral dilemma of {gasp} better funding public defenders.

            The classic Jack Benny skit (Where the robber says “Your money or your life..” and Jack is silent, then finally says “I’m thinking….I’m thinking.”) comes to mind.

  3. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    Because I am a nut when it comes to the government cutting square corners, the following language from the judge’s decision is worth emphasizing: “In particular, the government has a duty of candor and fair disclosure to the Court. TheCourt expects and relies upon the United States Attorney’s Office to be candid and forthcoming with material information uniquely held only in possession of the government and clearly relevant to central issues before the Court. That did not occur here.” (Footnote omitted.)

    I used to teach at the government’s program for new AUSAs. I stressed over and over the need for candor on the part of the government. The absolute requirement that the government be truthful with the court and opposing counsel. The government has a solemn obligation to cut square corners like German cabinet makers.

    If I were the US Attorney in Nevada, I would be ashamed. I would apologize to the court and counsel. And I would see to it that this type of “advocacy” never occurred again on my watch. If that apology doesn’t happen, then every judge in the district ought to look upon every future argument advanced by the USA in Nevada with a skepticism bordering on the paranoid.

    All the best.

    RGK

  4. lawrence kaplan

    Judge: You write “If I were the US Attorney in Nevada, I would be ashamed. I would apologize to the court and counsel. And I would see to it that this type of “advocacy” never occurred again on my watch.”

    But you are not the US Attorney in Nevada. Since he did not feel ashamed to lie to the court, to begin with, why assume he will feel ashamed now?

    You go on to say “If that apology doesn’t happen, then every judge in the district ought to look upon every future argument advanced by the USA in Nevada with a skepticism bordering on the paranoid.” A noble wish, But is there any reason to assume that that will happen?

    My question is whether there was or is anything Judge Hicks could have done or still can do to ensure that the US Attorney in Nevada apologize to court and counsel?

    1. Richard G. Kopf

      Lawrence,

      One thing that strikes terror into the guts of AUSAs is an investigation bythe office of Professional Responsibility with main Justice. In that vein, consider the following from the US Attorney’s Manual:

      1-4.120 – Reporting Allegations in the Course of Judicial Proceedings

      Judicial Statements Concerning Misconduct. Department attorneys shall report to their supervisors any statement by a judge or magistrate indicating a belief that misconduct by a Department employee has occurred, or taking under submission a claim of misconduct. Supervisors shall report to DOJ OPR immediately any evidence or non-frivolous allegation of serious misconduct.

      Judicial Findings of Misconduct and Requests for Review. Whenever a judge or magistrate makes a finding of misconduct by a Department employee or requests an inquiry by the Department into possible misconduct, the finding or request shall be reported immediately to the employee’s supervisor and to DOJ OPR, regardless whether the matter is regarded as serious or non-serious.

      All the best.

      RGK

        1. Richard G. Kopf

          SHG,

          I understand and appreciate that you are a skeptic on anything that comes out of Main Justice. But, I have seen what OPR does. So my views on this subject are not a matter of faith. OPR does not fuck around. From my experience, they are deadly serious when a judge complains about the conduct of an AUSA.

          All the best.

          RGK

          1. SHG Post author

            Maybe OPR changes its phone number and nobody told SDNY. Sorry, Judge, but some other judges I know have had less than satisfactory experiences working the back door to justice.

            There are two explanations why AUSAs never get disbarred. One is that they never do anything wrong, and we know that’s not the case.

  5. syme

    Alas, missing from my reading of the decision was any language discussing actual sanctions against the AUSA involved.

    An inadvertent oversight, perhaps?

  6. Captain Crunch

    In re to the drug dog point about clawing vs. sitting: A properly trained and handled search dog will in fact sit calmly as a sign of detection- regardless of the substance they’re searching for they’re all trained basically the same way IIRC. Which makes sense- you wouldn’t want your bomb dog to start clawing at suspicious items. A pawing, scratching dog, on the other hand, is a good sign that the dog is being hyped up and excited by its handler to do something that to the layperson looks like an alert. Or so I’m told anyway.

    1. SHG Post author

      Perhaps you missed the point of why this bit of info was included in the post. Or you just possess the same information about dog searches that the rest of us do, but felt some inexplicable compulsion to mention it in case others weren’t as dog sniff savvy.

      1. Captain Crunch

        Oddly, I did not see anywhere in the post where you mentioned what you as a clearly very knowledgable attorney would expect a drug dog to do in the presence of illicit substances. Let’s read it again… Nope, still not seeing it. I’d hazard a guess that a good number of people, maybe even a few reading this blog, probably think that scratching, barking, etc. is a good alert, rather than a calm sit, but since you already knew that I guess it was pointless to add it on for the benefit of others.

        1. SHG Post author

          Since you’re struggling, I’ll help you out. Most readers here are lawyers and judges. That you don’t know what they know isn’t their fault, but yours. This has all been discussed here before. But where you go completely off the rails is that you decide that it’s your place to use my blog to provide information for the benefit of others. And now, you’ve decided to compound your mistake by being an asshole about it. How’s that for “oddly”?

          Want to give others the benefit of your brilliance? Start a blog. Want to comment here. Don’t be an asshole. You’re welcome.

  7. Alan

    Once the government is ordered to pay back the money, do they have to do it immediately? Or can they drag it out to make this man’s experience even less pleasant?

  8. losingtrader

    I guess driving 65 in a 70 mph maximum zone, at night, on a deserted highway, was as good a reason as any for NHP to stop me. I mean, when they aren’t busy causing fiery 100 mph crashes , killing entire families . Because ……(not sure what would go here)

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