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Florida Appellate Court Rejects Money Laundering

Florida Appellate Court Rejects Money Laundering Prosecution for Fleeing the Scene of a Drug Transaction with $400.00 in Cash

The aggressive use of money laundering statutes by police and prosecutors has given rise to complaints that the statutes are not being used as they were intended, but rather as a way to add another charge and to increase sentencing for the underlying crime. The case of Dallas v. State, ___ So. 2d ___ , WL 4949123 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) is an example of the aggressive use of the state money laundering statute that was rejected by an appellate court.

In this case the defendant was charged with delivery of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a childcare facility, as well as unlawful transportation of currency in violation of section 896.101(3)(b)1., Florida Statutes (2007). This statute is part of Florida's money laundering statutes which makes it unlawful to "transport or attempt to transport a monetary instrument or funds with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity." One of the "specified unlawful activities" is drug offenses under Chapter 893, Florida Statutes.

A deputy sheriff observed the defendant, Mr. Dallas taking something out of his mouth and exchanging it for money with another person. The deputy then approached the person who received the item from the mouth of the defendant, and observed that it was crack cocaine. As the deputy was arresting the person who received the crack cocaine, he saw Mr. Dallas running away. The deputy and pursued and ultimately arrested the defendant.

At trial, the defendant moved for judgment of acquittal as to the unlawful transportation of currency count, arguing that the state failed to present any evidence that the transportation of the currency was with unlawful intent. A jury convicted the defendant of both delivery of cocaine and unlawful transportation of currency. He was sentenced to four years in prison on each count, running concurrently. The state argued on appeal that no Florida cases address the issue of whether the transportation money laundering statute includes transporting money to promote past crimes, and that the Court should look to federal cases dealing with that issue under the federal money laundering statute. The Appellate Court noted that the federal circuit courts are not in agreement on this issue.

The Court avoided deciding whether the Florida statute applies to promoting past criminal conduct stating that the scant evidence in this case was insufficient to prove the defendant's guilt under either theory. The Court further noted that:

Dallas sold a piece of cocaine, put the cash in his pocket and ran. He was later caught. The State urges us to conclude that Dallas' act of running away with the money to avoid being caught created a reasonable inference that he intended to promote the just-completed crime and to promote future drug selling. We cannot. Unlike the defendants in the cases cited by the State, Dallas did not have to cash a check or take any other action to realize a benefit. Thus, his act of running with the cash did not create an inference that he intended to promote past criminal activity because the activity was complete. Likewise, it did not create an inference that he intended to use the cash to promote future drug sales. Based on the evidence presented, such an inference would be based on pure speculation.

Dallas at 3.

The Court in Dallas did not mention the recent supreme court case of Cuellar v. U.S., ___ U.S. ___ , 128 S. Ct. 1994 (2008).

The Cuellar case was a subject matter of another blog which involved limiting the federal money laundering transportation statute. Both Cuellar and Dallas involved the rejection of the prosecution's argument that the scant evidence presented was sufficient circumstantial evidence to justify the conviction.