Can Police Seize All the Money Found In Drug Transactions ?
In Commonwealth v. $ 6425.00 seized from Esquilin, 583 Pa. 544, 880 A.2d 523 (2005), the police observed the defendant and an accomplice standing on a street corner.
Police observed people handing money to the accomplice and the accomplice then giving the money to the defendant.
The accomplice would then give a small object to the person.
The police stopped several of the people involved in the exchange with the accomplice and found them to be in possession of crack cocaine.
Police then arrested the accomplice, who was also found to be in possession of crack cocaine.
Police also arrested the defendant.
It was discovered that he had $ 6,425.00 in cash.
The Commonwealth filed a petition for forfeiture of the $ 6,425.00.
The trial court determined that there was a nexus between the money seized and illegal drug activity. As the defendant did not offer any evidence that the money was lawfully acquired, the forfeiture was granted.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court's finding that all of the money was properly seized.
The Court concluded that the police had observed $ 60.00 in drug transactions, but did not show that the remainder of the money had been used for illegal purposes.
The Commonwealth then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Supreme Court).
The Supreme Court explained that the Commonwealth had the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence that a nexus existed between the money and a violation of the Act.
Once that burden was met, the burden then shifted to the defendant to establish that he lawfully acquired the money and that it was not unlawfully used or possessed by him.
The Supreme Court determined that as the defendant was observed conducting drug deals it was more likely than not that the money in his possession was intended to be used to facilitate an illegal business.
As such, the Commonwealth met its burden of establishing that a nexus existed between the money and a violation of the Act.
Thus, the burden then shifted to the defendant to establish that he lawfully acquired the money, which he failed to establish.