Prosecutors in Moorhead are less than happy as a recent law change has forced them to hand back almost $10,000 and a Chevy Corvette to a suspected drug dealer.
Clay County will fork over $9,928 to Thomas Lloyd Schultz, 26, whose Corvette was impounded by police following a June 17 traffic stop. After searching the vehicle, officers discovered 4 1/2 pounds of marijuana mixed in with the cash.
The felony drug charges against Schultz were dropped because, according to a recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court and a change in state law, police improperly seized his belongings after he was pulled over for reckless driving. He was cited for driving with a suspended license and his car was impounded, according to InForum.
The change in law bans forfeiture of property before a conviction and because Schultz's Corvette was impounded before the drugs and cash were discovered by officers, police were required to return his car and the money, KFGO reports.
InForum reports that Clay County Attorney Brian Melton wrote a letter to Schultz along with his check, in which he said: "I would imagine, as a drug dealer, you are enjoying these decisions immensely." Melton added that police should have instead let him drive off after citing him.
It followed a case in August in which the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned a drugs conviction against Erica Rohde after police found two bags of methamphetamine and glass pipes in her car after a traffic stop in Anoka County, according to InForum.
The court ruled that impounding and searching her car was unconstitutional because police did not originally intend to her arrest her, and her car was not posing any safety hazards to the public.
Melton told WDAY the new law is "benefitting the drug dealers more than it is benefitting the public."
Melton is likely to come face-to-face with Schultz again soon, as he faces a new charge of fourth-degree sale of a controlled substance, after police charged him for allegedly selling a half-pound of marijuana, WDAY notes.
Balancing crime prevention with constitutional rights
The case in Moorhead is not an isolated one. The issue of constitutional rights in drug and property seizure cases regularly appears in U.S courts.
Last month, Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a police search in a man's house after he "aroused suspicion" during a drugs stop on the street was unconstitutional, The Associated Press reports.
It followed an earlier ruling of Oregon Supreme Court that found police had coerced the roommate of Jose Rivera into letting them search his property, during which heroin was found in the freezer along with $20,000 cash.
In May 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police may no longer use sniffer dogs to find drugs or other items in a property without first getting a warrant, the Huffington Post reports.
And in 2008, police seized and impounded cars belonging to 130 innocent patrons during a raid of an art institute in Detroit, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The raid was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in December 2012.