(John Disney/Daily Report)
Judges must allow people trying to recover money lost in police seizures to present evidence on their behalf, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
Orlando Sanchez, a self-professed professional gambler, lost $11,165 in a traffic stop by West Palm Beach police July 3, 2013. The arresting officer testified he thought he smelled marijuana and found most of the money—two blocks of $20 bills—in a shopping bag on the center console. The officer claimed Sanchez said he won the money at a friend’s house playing high-stakes poker, which is against state law.
Sanchez denied saying that and insisted he won the money at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. He offered as evidence gambling tickets and racing programs from the dog track, all dated the day of the traffic stop. He was not allowed to call as a witness a track employee who saw him that day and heard him say “I won” in Spanish.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Meenu Sasser ruled Sanchez made a sufficient showing to negate their claim of probable cause. She reversed herself after the officer testified he saw no gambling tickets or programs in the car.
Fourth District Judge Robert Gross concluded the claimant has a right to litigate the issue of probable cause.
“The focus of this statute is on the evidence of probable cause that exists at the time of the adversarial preliminary hearing, not just what the police officers knew at the time the property was seized,” Gross said.
Fourth District Judges Melanie May and Cory Ciklin concurred.
Sanchez’s attorney, Michael Amezaga of Orner & Orner in Boca Raton, said he thought “it was a clear-cut case” in favor of his client.
Christopher Van Hall represented the city. He had no comment by deadline.