3rd Circuit: State must return seized cash

by Walter Pierce

"The State has failed to show the existence of probable cause for forfeiture of the money."

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a lower-court ruling and ordered the state to return more than $144,000 dollars seized in a January 2009 traffic stop on Interstate 10 in St. Martin Parish.

Tiffany Beers of North Carolina was headed west on the interstate when she was pulled over for a routine traffic violation by a state trooper. The traffic stop led to a search of Beer's car by a K-9 officer - a search that turned up the cash, which was said to have the "scent of narcotics" on it, hidden in a compartment in the floor of the vehicle.

Beers claimed no knowledge of the cash, and although she was neither ticketed for the traffic violation nor arrested for the narcotic scent detected on the money, the state seized the cash. But two weeks later, as the state went through the legal maneuvers required to formally claim the money, Beers fought back, filing a motion to have the cash returned to her.

The case actually bounced up to appeals court on a technicality in May of 2009. The 3rd Circuit reversed that district court ruling and remanded the case back to district court to decide whether probably cause existed for the seizure. A district court judge agreed that the state had probable cause - the ruling the 3rd Circuit this week reversed:

The State has failed to show the existence of probable cause for forfeiture of the money which, under La.R.S. 40:2612(G), it would have had to show, even if no timely claim had been filed at all. Accordingly, the State is not entitled to keep that money. The cash should be returned to Tina Beers, from whom it was taken.