Appellate court orders state to return $30,000 in seized currency

August 17, 2017

The state of Indiana must return $30,000 that was seized as part of a suspected drug trafficking scheme after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday the state failed to prove the money could reasonably be considered the proceeds of drug trafficking.

While visually inspecting parcels at a local shipping company in November 2015, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Detective Brian Thorla was drawn to two parcels that were both shipped from Illinois to the same man, Jacob Murphy, in California. Thorla noticed the packages because they were being sent by priority overnight shipping, heavily taped and addressed to the same California recipient, which is known as a “source state for the importation/exportation of controlled substances.”

Thorla conducted a K-9 dog sniff on the parcels, which alerted positively to the odor of controlled substances in each package. Thorla then obtained a search warrant authorizing law enforcement to search the packages “for controlled substances, records of drug trafficking, and proceeds of drug trafficking.”

When law enforcement officials opened the parcels, they found $30,300, but no controlled substances or records of drug trafficking. The money was seized, but no criminal charges were brought against any of the defendants involved, including Murphy or Robert Bowman and Tommy Maurry, who were listed as the senders on the packages.  There is also no indication that any of the men have been the subjects of a state or federal criminal investigation.

The state moved to transfer the money to the United States, but the men objected, arguing the seizure of the currency exceeded the scope of the search warrant. The Marion Superior Court ultimately granted the state’s motions, finding there was probable cause to “authorize the seizure of ‘proceeds of drug trafficking’ … .”

The men appealed in Robert Bowman, Tommy Maurry, and Jacob Murphy, et al. v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1606-MI-1463, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the grant of the state’s motion to transfer in a Wednesday opinion.

Judge John Baker, writing for the unanimous appellate panel, said the only way the seizure of the money could have fallen within the terms of the search warrant was if it could “reasonably be concluded to be ‘proceeds of drug trafficking.’” In this case, Baker said the fact that the parcels were heavily taped and were being shipped overnight to the same California recipient was not enough to prove the money could reasonably be considered the proceeds of drug trafficking.

“So, we are left with the fact that a K-9 unit gave positive alerts on both parcels at issue,” Baker continued. “The very most that this fact means is that at some point, someone handling the parcels transferred an odor of controlled substances to them. It may have been Bowman and Maurry, who sent the parcels, or it may have been any number of individuals involved with the handling of the parcels in transit.”

Further, no drugs or drug paraphernalia were found in the parcels, and none of the men were charged with drug crimes, so the seizure of the currency exceeded the scope of the search warrant, Baker said. The appellate court remanded the case with instructions to return the money to the appellants.


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