Avoid seizures of cash by taking prudent measures

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Civil asset forfeiture became a triggering topic for some of us when the case of Jerry Johnson came to our attention.

He is a small-business trucking company owner whose $39,500 was seized as he traveled to buy a truck at an auction. It took two and a half years for him to get his money back. It took a few more weeks to get interest and to be eligible to be compensated for attorney’s fees.

Without the nonprofit, public-interest law firm Institute for Justice fighting on his behalf, he may not have ever gotten his money back.

This is a time when the axiom “there but for the grace of God go I” floats up to conscious thought. With it, how can I avoid something like this happening to me?

Recently, the Competitive Enterprise Institute distributed a report titled “Five Myths of Civil Forfeiture, Second Edition.” It is a nonprofit libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. Its website says it fights for “less regulation, more freedom, and fairness for all.”

The five asset forfeiture myths, in short:

  • Cash seizures, which become forfeitures, typically consist of hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is not true. A typical cash seizure and forfeiture ranges from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
  • When property is seized, the owner has access to the courts to recover it. There is a very high rate of default judgments in forfeiture cases, where the person whose property was seized didn’t attend the court proceeding. This shows that property owners actually have little access to the courts for redress.
  • Seizure and forfeiture take place in accord with due process of law. There are problems. A big one is that due process is often short-circuited because the cost of hiring an attorney to fight to get the money back often is more than the amount seized. Spending $2,000 to get back that amount or less isn’t cost-effective.
  • Our justice system requires high standards of proof of wrongdoing for seizures and forfeitures to occur. In fact, money and property can be seized and forfeited to the government with little evidence, and the burden of proof is on the person wanting their property back, not the government.
  • Injustices caused by civil forfeiture can be addressed by requiring a conviction in criminal court as a prerequisite to forfeiture litigation in civil court. The institute argues that conviction prerequisites that some states have enacted are essentially ineffective.

Circumventing problems

Jerry Johnson’s case was extraordinary for a couple of reasons. First, it was nearly $40,000 that was seized, not just a few hundred or a couple of thousand dollars. Second, he flew to Phoenix, into the waiting arms of Transportation Security Administration at Sky Harbor International. Third, he got it back.

Yet, as long-haul truck drivers know, their situation is different than most people’s situations. Truck drivers are more exposed. The cab is their living quarters on the road.

There are measures a trucker can take to avoid problems, however. At the root of these suggestions is the bedrock assertion that it is best to not give any reason for an officer to seize cash or other property.

First off, remember that a law enforcement officer is allowed to ask civilians questions and to draw reasonable conclusions about anything in plain view.

Also remember that an officer who has reason to believe a civilian is carrying a weapon or has one close enough to grab is allowed to search the civilian or parts of the vehicle to ensure officer safety.

What to do to avoid seizures

These are things you can do to reduce risk of seizure of property during a roadside stop. Many of these suggestions are from another Competitive Enterprise Institute report. It is titled “They’re Taking My Stuff!”

Read the full article on Land Line.