This case was about more than just money — in this case, $6,000 in cash seized four years ago by police in Sunnyside, Washington. The cops also seized Andres Gonzalez's silver 2001 BMW — illegally, as it turned out.
For the past four years, the government has dangled a silver 2001 BMW in front of Andres Gonzalez's face through the controversial law enforcement practice known as civil forfeiture
. The case will end up costing the city more money than it would have gained had the court upheld the forfeiture decision, Gonzalez's attorneys say.
First, the city of Sunnyside, Washington, took the car and almost $6,000 in cash after deciding it was somehow connected to illegal drug sales or manufacturing.
Gonzalez appealed that decision to Yakima County Superior Court, where the judge concluded, "I don't think that a reasonable person could find that the money and the vehicle were involved somehow in narcotic trafficking, based upon the record we have."
The city then appealed that
decision to the Washington state Court of Appeals, which upheld the city's original decision, based on a procedural technicality.
"Appellate courts — including superior courts sitting in an appellate capacity — do not reweigh evidence," the Court of Appeals concluded. Therefore "the Superior Court erred when it reweighed the evidence."
With the final word last month, the Washington state Supreme Court has given his car and his cash back to Gonzalez, along with awarding him attorneys' fees. Justice Mary Yu also had a few words to stay regarding the controversial practice that allows governments to take people's possessions — in some cases, without a single charge filed.
In 2013, Gonzalez was pulled over for speeding. His license was suspended, and Sgt. Scott Bailey placed him under arrest. A second officer showed up "to assist with impounding the car," according to court documents, and a drug-sniffing dog came with him.
The dog found a "user amount" of cocaine as well as the cash.
The city of Sunnyside seized the cash and car, and in 2014, a municipal court judge determined that the city could keep it all, based on the facts that Gonzalez had two cellphones, the "user amount" of cocaine, the large amount of cash, and the car was not registered to him when he was pulled over.