Please note: This article is intended to expose local and state law enforcement tactics used to steal large sums of money from citizens. While this is a fairly specific article, there are thousands upon thousands of examples of this happening on the federal level as well. I mention this because most of what I write about is from personal experience as a law enforcement officer. As I have never been involved in a federal seizure I will not attempt to dissect federal laws as they are even more complicated and convoluted.
It used to be that a man had the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. This old, outdated concept comes from the 4th Amendment of our Constitution. Furthermore it is supposed to apply to every man, woman and child, whether a citizen or not, as long as they are on American soil . Furthermore, the Constitution states that no State shall pass any law to interfere with the rights granted to us by the constitution.
Now, having the above idealistic notion in your head, watch this video
Does anyone see a problem here?
There was no arrest, no CRIMINAL charge. This seizure was done CIVILLY in the name of the War on Drugs. This officer ASSUMED that no one in their right mind would carry $20k in cash with them, so this man must obviously be a drug dealer.
I’m not a rich man. I “get by” just like most of you. But there have been times in my life when I have possessed this much money. When I quit law enforcement, cashed out my 401k and started a business with it is one example. Another would be several times while buying houses. The point is, there are PLENTY of legitimate reasons someone would have this much cash on them and but a few illegal reasons. But this officer chose to believe that this man must be a drug dealer. Why would he think that? I’ll tell you why, and it is at the root of the recent blatant abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws.
- The victim here was from out of state. That means he is less likely to complain, fight for his property or return to get it (no doubt after several court appearences).
- The aggressor (the police officer) gets to turn that money over to his department to be used for anything from new boots to new weapons and almost anything in between. Federal and state laws specify categories (equipment, personnel, uniforms, etc) seized money can be used for but in most cases they are very broad and can be interpreted to mean many things.
How it works
Ok hang on, because this is where the ride gets REALLY retarded.
Most civil asset forfeiture laws were created so the government could quickly seize the assets, liquid and otherwise, of criminals (usually businesses) who have violated the law but have not yet been convicted of a crime. This is because things like cash are easy to get rid of and there would not likely be anything left to compensate the victim or victims with by the time a case made it to trial. But in a drug case there is no victim that would need to be compensated, right?
Every drug warrant I EVER wrote listed the same victim over and over, time after time. And that victim was the STATE OF ________________! This means that the STATE is entitled to take your property from you and use it to further their agenda IF it is used or obtained during the commission of a crime. But the fucked up part is that they don’t even have to prove a law was broken to legally confiscate your property. All they have to do is convince a judge in a CIVIL PROCEEDING that it is more likely than not that your property was somehow used in the commission of a crime. There is a big difference between the rules of evidence in a CRIMINAL trial and a CIVIL trial. The difference is that criminal charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas a civil victory only requires a preponderance of the evidence.
This is how it is so easily done. Your property is taken by a police officer and he hands you a receipt and notice of intent to seize your property, which is then held until a civil hearing is convened, sometimes months later. Forget the car or boat or house or bulldozer you were about to buy. Sorry for the inconvenience but it is what it is.
This horrible scenario plays out day after day and, with few exceptions, has been upheld as a constitutional activity. This form of legalized highway robbery is allowing law enforcement, district attorneys and even judges to pad their budget and buy almost anything they want with the money they steal.
First the bad news: If a police officer wants to get into your vehicle and steal your cash there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Unfortunately there are some law enforcement officers that are so blinded to reality that they will do whatever it takes to get what they think you have. That means they will lie, cheat and coerce to get into your car and when that doesn’t work, they will do it anyway. Your only recourse against these assholes is in a courtroom.
Now for the good news: Most police officers are not “win at all costs” types of people. MOST police officers are honest, hard working people who just want to do their job, make a difference and go home. To most police officers “no means no”. So with that in mind never ever ever forget the one cardinal rule when dealing with law enforcement officers:
NEVER CONSENT TO A SEARCH OF YOUR PROPERTY
Although, many would consider this interaction unsettling, truthfully it had a positive outcome. The driver refused to consent to a warrantless search and the officer (begrudgingly) respected the right of the driver to refuse. As I said above, refusing to allow a warrantless search, no matter how heavy-handed the officer becomes, is the only way to avoid the possibility of having your property confiscated. Even if they say it will “just take a minute”, stand your ground. Even if they threaten to “call a dog”, STAND YOUR GROUND. In the end the only person you are hurting by consenting to a warrantless search (even if you have nothing to hide) is yourself.