Judge blasts government for seizing $167,000 from man in Nevada who was driving too slow
A federal judge accused the U.S. government of a “lack of candor” and ordered it to return $167,000 that was seized from a man who was stopped for a minor traffic violation.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a Nevada state trooper stopped Straughn Gorman’s motor home on Interstate 80 in January 2013 for allegedly driving too slow.
After Gorman declined to let the trooper search his vehicle, the trooper let him go without a citation. But the trooper radioed ahead for a Elko County sheriff’s deputy to perform a second stop with a drug-sniffing dog.
The dog alerted the deputy to something suspicious in the motor home, and $167,000 was found hidden throughout the vehicle. Gorman’s money was turned over to federal authorities to initiate civil forfeiture proceedings, but he was never charged with a crime.
Authorities said that they were suspicious that Gorman was going to use the money to buy marijuana. Gorman, however, insisted that he was on his way to Sacramento to visit his girlfriend.
Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks accused the U.S. Attorneys Office in Reno of hiding information from the court about Gorman’s initial stop for driving too slow.
“No matter how this can be viewed, the two stops were for minor traffic violations and they both were extended beyond the legitimate purposes for such traffic stops,” Hicks wrote, noting that the second stop would not have happened if it were not for the first.
Hicks ruled that the government had violated Gorman’s Fourth Amendment rights because the deputies did not have “independent reasonable suspicion” to conduct the second stop.
“This district has recently emphasized the importance of candor to the court at all stages of investigation,” the judge said.
Gorman’s lawyer, Vincent Savarese, said he was “dismayed that it required so much effort and litigation to bring the truthful facts to light that allowed Judge Hicks to make an informed decision.”
The decision entitles Gorman to lawyer’s fees, and opened the door to a motion for additional compensation. The U.S. Attorneys Office in Reno was considering appealing the decision.