Most drivers will admit to dreading both the sight of a police cruiser’s flashing lights in their rear view mirror and the routine traffic stop they expect to undergo for driving a little too fast or skirting a minor traffic law. For some motorists, however, the traffic stop will morph into a nightmare and before it is over, they will find themselves victim to an increasingly common law enforcement tactic known as Civil Asset Forfeiture.
What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Civil Asset Forfeiture allows federal, state and local law enforcement officers to seize civilian assets during the process of a routine traffic stop by simply making the assertion that the assets, usually cash, is related to some sort of criminal activity. Enacted decades ago by the United States Department of Justice, Civil Asset Forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to keep all or most of the assets seized, usually cash, and use them within their agency to pay for salaries, equipment or other needs or wants.
Who is at Risk For Civil Asset Forfeiture?
While the Department of Justice (DOJ) claims that the process was never intended to affect anyone other than criminals, the practice of seizing assets during routine traffic stops has become a popular way for funds-challenged law enforcement agencies of all sizes to pay for things that don’t fit into their meager budgets. Because of this, more Americans than ever before are finding themselves stripped of large sums of cash or other assets during what should have been only a routine traffic stop. Even more worrisome is the fact that this is not only happening in drug-infested, high crime areas, it is also happening on peaceful stretches of rural highways all across the country.
A Growing Crime Against the Constitution
A disturbing example of the civil asset forfeiture played out in rural Iowa in April of 2013 when $100,000 in cash was seized by Iowa State Troopers during what should have been a textbook example of a routine traffic stop. Instead the two occupants of the car, both professional poker players who routinely carry large sums of cash, were stripped of their cash and subjected to a search and seizure process that could not even be remotely considered constitutional.
In fear of losing all the money, the two victims of this fiasco eventually agreed to a settlement with the state of Iowa that restored $90,000 of the money to them. An ongoing legal battle continues to date between the state of Iowa and the two victims for the remaining $10,000, as well as for an unspecified amount of damages caused by the traffic stop.
Iowa is not the only state who is using this type of unconstitutional money grab to line their coffers. Recent seizures have made the news in Texas, Nevada and many other states, as well. In fact, according to a recent Washington Post article, nearly 70,000 cash seizures have occurred during traffic stops or contact with law enforcement in the few short years since 9/11. With a total cash grab in excess of more than $2.5 billion, this figure becomes more astounding by noting that none of the cash taken involved the use of search warrants or formal legal indictments.
Beware the Equitable Sharing Program
Conceived by the federal government and eagerly adopted by all levels of law enforcement, the Equitable Sharing Program is the reason behind the increasingly bold level of seizure activity being brought to bear on the American public.