Driver’s “cotton mouth” leads to car and cash seizure in Maryland
After Fitzroy C. Simon was pulled over by a Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer for traffic infractions on Dec. 12, 2012, while driving another person’s 2002 Dodge Stratus with New York license plates, he gave the officer consent to search the vehicle, according to a federal court document filed July 17.
The reason for the search: when Simon spoke to the officer, he “had a white phlegm-like substance around his lips,” the court document states, and “this symptom, referred to as ‘cotton mouth,’ is a common result of smoking marijuana.” That, and the fact that “a can of pine scent air freshener was located on the rear passenger floor area of the Vehicle.”
The search turned up the following: “a portable ash tray with the odor of burnt marijuana,” the court document states, “a pack of blunt rolling paper,” “a 5-Hour Energy drink,” “fast food wrappers,” “a knit skull cap containing a trace amount of marijuana flakes,” “a portable red gas can,” and – the kicker – “a hidden electronic compartment in the passenger side air bag containing $21,319.00 in United States currency.”
Fitzroy “stated that he did not know whom the currency belonged to.” Later, at a police station, a drug-sniffing dog “alerted positively to the presence of narcotics on the recovered currency.”
Simon, according to the court document, “does not have any reported wages” and “has a prior arrest in New York in 2011 for criminal possession of a controlled substance.”
Federal prosecutors filed a complaint for forfeiture in Maryland U.S. District Court on July 17, seeking to keep the Stratus and the cash based on the assertion that the above-quoted evidence, contained in an affidavit signed by DEA Special Agent Edward Marcinko, Jr., supports the “reasonable belief” that the cash and the car were tied to illegal drugs.