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Innocent Until Proven Broke: How Cops Can Legally Steal Your Property
We need to put an end to 'policing for profit.'
Imagine a teenager, having endured years of sexual abuse, finally seeing her abuser brought to justice. Then, the local police department throws in another insidious twist - the money that was supposed to help her heal and move forward is snatched away, not by the criminal, but by the police.
This actually happened to a teenage girl in North Carolina.
The sex offender is now serving time in prison for taking indecent liberties with a child, but his victim says she can't move on.
Now 17, the high school senior is waiting for the Mint Hill Police Department to comply with a court order and turn over the $69,130 officers seized from her abuser. The department refuses.
"I've been dealing with this since I was 5 years old and I'm almost 18 and I just want to move on to the next chapter of my life," the teen said while holding her mother's hand. "That money was going to help me do it and without it, it just feels like three steps back. It's honestly so frustrating and difficult."
Since law enforcement also found drugs when investigating the suspect, they used civil asset forfeiture to seize his money, which could have gone toward paying his victim in the settlement.
Does it sound unfair? Of course it does.
Or picture this: A business owner flies across the country with cash to buy equipment. He’s not breaking any law. But the police seize his money, accusing him of being involved in illegal activities without any proof. He spends years fighting to get his own money back.
A man from North Carolina is set to regain over $39,000 in cash after Arizona police seized the funds at the Phoenix airport even though they did not charge him with a crime.
Jerry Johnson, who owns a trucking company, claimed he had flown to Phoenix in 2020 to potentially buy a semitruck at auction when police detectives approached him at baggage claim, accused him of being a drug trafficker, and confiscated $39,500. While it is legal to fly domestically with large amounts of cash, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity under civil asset forfeiture laws, regardless of whether the property owner has been charged with a crime.
Johnson attempted to challenge the seizure by providing bank statements and tax returns to prove ownership of the cash. However, the judge presiding over the case ruled that Johnson had failed to establish a legitimate interest in the funds due to inconsistencies in his story and circumstantial evidence presented by prosecutors. This included his criminal record, buying a last-minute ticket with a quick turnaround, appearing nervous in the airport, having three cellphones, and the alleged scent of marijuana on the money.
In Nebraska, a highway known for its scenic beauty has a dark side. Police there are known to pull over out-of-state drivers and take their money, claiming it's tied to crime. Most often, these drivers aren’t charged with any crime - they’re just forced to choose between their money or their freedom.
In August 2020, flashing police lights stopped Christopher Bouldin’s van on this short ribbon of road as he headed west through Seward County. Within minutes, Bouldin found himself standing with his dog on the westbound shoulder.
Seward County deputies had just found $18,000 in cash rolled up in a blue sleeping bag in his backseat. It’s drug money, they alleged. It’s money for my trip to Colorado, Bouldin responded.
There, on the side of the road, 1,300 miles from his Virginia home, in a state where Bouldin knew no one, a sheriff’s deputy handed him a form.
You can sign this piece of paper, abandon the $18,000, avoid arrest and continue on to Colorado, he says he was told.
Don’t sign, and you will go to jail. You could face felony charges. Your van will be towed. Your dog will be taken to the pound.
“They were trying really hard for me to sign that,” Bouldin said.
These stories are real, and they highlight a massive problem in America today - civil asset forfeiture. It’s a mouthful of a term, but here’s the simple version: it allows police to take your money or property if they suspect it’s connected to crime. The big issue? They don’t have to prove anything to take what’s yours. In fact, you don’t even have to be charged or convicted of a crime.
Civil asset forfeiture, also known as “policing for profit,” allows police officers to steal people’s property without due process or even a conviction. They can take your money, house, vehicle, or other piece of property if they “suspect” that it has been used to commit a crime.
Even worse, getting your money or property back is nearly impossible. In most cases, it requires the help of an attorney to navigate the system in a way that ensures your property will be returned to you. Most people can’t afford high-priced lawyers to take on these battles, which should never have to be fought in the first place.
This practice is unfair, unjust, and un-American. We’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil asset forfeiture flips that principle on its head.
Enter the FAIR Act. It’s a piece of legislation that can fix this mess, if Congress ever gets around to passing it. The bill aims to ensure that law enforcement can’t just take your property without proving a crime. “Innocent until proven guilty has little meaning if law enforcement can seize your assets before you ever appear in a court on a criminal charge,” says Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND).
I couldn’t agree more.
We need the FAIR Act because the current system is broken. It’s letting law enforcement take the easy way out, collecting millions by taking from people who can’t fight back. We should all be worried about this because it could happen to any of us or someone we love.
We’re calling for a stop to this injustice. The stories above aren’t unique - there are thousands more like them, and it’s a stain on our nation’s commitment to justice and fairness.
Enough is enough. We need the FAIR Act to pass, protecting us from unlawful seizures and ensuring that our property and dignity are safeguarded under the law. It’s a common-sense reform that upholds the values we hold dear as Americans. Let’s make our voices heard and end this injustice once and for all.
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