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Judge: ‘Tainted’ $9610 seized in unlawful search

A judge has ruled that the police seizure of $9610 suspected of being “tainted property” from a North Queensland woman was made during an unlawful search.

District Court Judge Ian Dearden on Friday overturned a conviction and $1000 fine imposed by a Townsville magistrate against a woman – identified as GJK – on a charge of possessing Australian currency suspected of being tainted property on 12 June 2020.

The court was told GJK was found guilty of the charge after a summary trial in the Townsville Magistrates Court on 11 June 2021 – with an order being made that the $9610 seized by police be forfeited to the State of Queensland.

GJK, who had pleaded not guilty to the charge, appealed the magistrate’s decision under section 222 of the Justices Act 1886 (Qld).

The appeal was on the grounds the magistrate erred in finding the car GJK travelled in was lawfully stopped and that the police search of the vehicle was lawful; and the verdict of guilty was unreasonable and not supported by the weight of the evidence.

Judge Dearden, in providing background to the incident, said: “(GJK) was the driver of a Holden Commodore SS sedan on 12 June 2020, surveilled by police, parked outside the address of a woman who was the subject of significant police intelligence holdings relating to the supply and possession of dangerous drugs.

“The car itself belonged to a male person for whom there was also recent intelligence connecting him to the illicit drug scene in Townsville.

“(GJK) was intercepted and her licence was checked. (She appeared) nervous, but did not appear intoxicated, and was herself the subject of police intelligence holdings in respect of illicit drug supply. (GFK) was detained, the vehicle was searched without warrant, and $9610 in Australian currency was located.”

Senior Constable Alex Fisher had testified that when he first saw the car he was aware who owned it, and that person was not GJK.

“Senior Constable Fisher confirmed that, at the point of surveilling the car, he did not go and obtain a search warrant and further, he agreed that he did not have a reasonable suspicion at that time that there were unlawful dangerous drugs in the car,” Judge Dearden said.

A second officer, Senior Constable Carlos Louwrens, also testified that he was in the police car when GJK was stopped.

“When asked in (his) evidence-in-chief, ‘What was the initial reason for intercepting the vehicle?’ (Snr Const Louwrens) responded, ‘Just for a licence check to identify the driver’.’’

Counsel for GJK submitted it was clear from the police evidence at the trial that the only reason for stopping the car was to “identify the driver, and not any other purposes”.

In granting the appeal, Judge Dearden said: “In my view … the learned magistrate should have concluded that the stopping of the vehicle was unlawful, that the search which then followed was similarly unlawful, and that the evidence as to the location of the $9610.00 in cash in the vehicle should have been excluded.

“I make the following orders: Appeal granted. Set aside the verdict of guilty and enter a verdict of not guilty in respect of the charge of possessing tainted property pursuant to the Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act 2002 (Qld).”

He also set aside the $1000 fine and the order forfeiting the cash.

Read the decision.

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