City of Montgomery Police Department Wins Case for $382,000 in Money Seized from Traffic Stop

The police searched a car, found a large amount of cash and had the cash forfeited. These types of cases happen every day in every county in Alabama. A car is stopped, the police search the vehicle, they find a large amount of a cash and presume it is illegal funds and the cash gets taken. Unfortunately, I hear these type of stories about six times a year. The sad part is that someone may wait weeks to hire a lawyer to retain their money.

In March 2014, the Montgomery Police seized over $382,000 in cash from a car that belonged to Ruiz after a traffic stop. The police obtained a cashier’s check and turned the money over to the United States Marshall Service seven days later. Approximately on April 15, 2014, the DEA filed a federal forfeiture proceeding in the Middle District of Alabama to condemn the funds.

Ruiz filed an action in state court to have his money returned to him. Ruiz claimed that no action had been filed in more than ten weeks and was due to have his money returned. The City of Montgomery filed a motion asking the state court to dismiss the case. The Montgomery Police relied on the fact that it had been more than ten weeks. In July 2014, the federal forfeiture case was concluded and the City of Montgomery received 80% of the money. Ruiz appealed the federal forfeiture.

The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the appeal. Ruiz contended that state jurisdiction attached when the officers seized the currency on March 13, 2014. Also, that the federal forfeiture proceedings were invalid because the state court had jurisdiction.

In Green v. City of Montgomery, the Court had to determine if federal or state in rem jurisdiction had attached first regarding currency seized by Montgomery Police officers. In that case, the Court determined that Alabama requires a two-step process before state jurisdiction attaches: possession and the filing of an action. However, federal jurisdiction begins at the moment that the res is controlled by federal agents. In this case, United States Marshals had actual possession of the currency before Ruiz filed his complaint in the trial court. Thus, federal jurisdiction attached first and the trial court had no jurisdiction to entertain Ruiz’s complaint or to enter a judgment pursuant to it.

A judgment entered by a court lacking subject matter jurisdiction is void and will not support an appeal. The lesson or take away from this case is that if you are stopped by the police and they take your money, file a lawsuit immediately to retrieve your money. Hire a criminal lawyer to fight to get back the money you have worked for. The more time that passes by, the harder it is to retrieve your hard earned funds. If you have had your money taken from a traffic stop, call my office for a free consultation to discuss your case immediately.

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