Anthony Smelley Will Get His Money Back

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Anthony Smelley was the subject of my February feature in Reason about asset forfeiture abuse. In January of last year, Smelley was pulled over in Putnam County, Indiana for an unsafe lane change and an obscured license plate. After a drug dog alerted to Smelley’s car, police seized $17,320 in cash Smelley had brought with him. According to court records, Smelley says he was en route from Michigan to St. Louis, where he planned to use the money to purchase a car for his aunt. Even though Smelley later produced a letter from a Detroit law firm confirming that the money was part of a settlement from a recent car accident, Putnam County moved forward to keep the money, on the absurd theory that Smelley could have used the money to purchase drugs at some point in the future.

To make matters worse, the county was represented not by an elected public official, but by Christopher Gambill, an attorney in private practice who handles several Indiana counties’ forfeiture cases on a contingency basis, earning 25-33 percent of what he wins in court, a system stacked with twisted incentives.

I don’t know that you could call it a victory, but last week, some 13 months after Putnam County took his money, Anthony Smelley learned he will finally get it back. Putnam County Circuit Court Special Judge David Polk ruled that the stop, detainment, and drug dog search of Smelley and his car were all legal. But Polk also determined that because the police found no drugs in Smelley’s possession and because the county presented no other evidence of illegal activity, it is obligated to return Smelley’s money.

Under Indiana law, Smelley will not be reimbursed for his time, interest on the money, court costs or attorney’s fees.

This is obviously preferable to a decision allowing the county to keep Smelley’s money. But it shows just what a rigged game the forfeiture racket is that it took 13 months, two judges, and a hell of a lot of hassle for Smelley to reach the same outcome he should have been granted the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car.

You can read Polk’s decision here.

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26 Responses to “Anthony Smelley Will Get His Money Back”

  1. #1 |  Charles | 

    Will Gambill get to keep his money? Perhaps the worst possible outcome is that everybody is out money but him.

  2. #2 |  Radley Balko | 

    Gambill keeps a cut of what he wins in court.

    So I don’t think he’ll be getting anything from this case.

  3. #3 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    So having money is suspicious, not just because it might have been from a drug deal, but because it might be used to buy drugs? They might as well just make the stuff illegal because we can’t be trusted with it.

  4. #4 |  BamBam | 

    #3, this stuff we call “money” is already illegal in that it’s not Constitutional to have the Federal Reserve. It’s also interesting to note that the government declared a monopoly on what is “legal tender” to preserve the bankster’s power over people, unless you partake in alternative currencies (use google to find examples). The true name of this green paper most called “money” is “Notes” as it says on the green paper, which means it represents debt, not wealth. Debt because it represents debt that the government has to the Federal Reserve, which then sells the debt at Treasury auctions and other mechanisms, which is why you hear things like “China owns X% of US debt, Japan owns Y%, etc.” They buy our debt with the understanding that they’ll get their money back, with interest, like a good pimp would demand from his hoes. HOWEVER, this country doesn’t produce enough to balance the debt, so it’s a debt that can never be repaid.

    I can only suggest doing some research, as it would be too long of a post to explain every critical piece of info to get an understanding of it all.

  5. #5 |  BamBam | 

    From a simplistic point of view, yes declare these notes as illegal because the logic of “you have it, it was from drugs or could be used for drugs” is insane. Then maybe we, if the people care enough and are educated enough to fight the banking cartels, can return to sound money.

    History speaks volumes about what is used as currency and how governments and banking interests use it to control the populace and steal your wealth.

  6. #6 |  Mattocracy | 

    Another opportunity for me to ask why in the hell isn’t the DoJ investigating these officials for violating a person’s civil rights?

  7. #7 |  Marc | 

    More good news! A police officer suspended WITHOUT pay! A miracle! http://www.wpri.com/dpp/target_12/providence-det-robert-decarlo-indicted-in-police-brutality-case

    “The video showed Mendonca being dragged when a detective – later identified in a complaint as DeCarlo — walked up, kicked Mendonca and struck him several times with a flashlight.”

    Granted, he was on paid administrative duty for a while, but at least now he’s without salary and may actually get convicted. I can finally be proud of my state for something. :)

  8. #8 |  goober1223 | 

    That’s what I never understand… People can drag you through the courts for months or years, but unless you file a separate suit, you don’t get a settlement for all the time wasted. If somebody is found at fault, they should pay everything to make your life, at least easily converted to dollars, back to where you should be if the event never happened. That means money or time wasted should be compensated for.

    This hasn’t happened to me, but I still find it despicable.

  9. #9 |  BamBam | 

    #7, apparently the judge is a comedian

    “Today’s indictment is a reminder that everybody is the same in the eyes of the law,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch. “Although police officers have a very difficult job, a police officer who allegedly breaks the law must be held accountable in the same way as any other person.”

  10. #10 |  SJE | 

    I agree: the problem is that the state can bankrupt people through legal procedings.

  11. #11 |  Michael Chaney | 

    But Polk also determined that because the police found no drugs in Smelley’s possession and because the county presented no other evidence of illegal activity, it is obligated to return Smelley’s money.

    Judge Polk might want to read up on the statute. The intent of forfeiture laws is to take away criminals’ ill-gotten gains. Even if he had drugs in the car, it’s immaterial. The question is this: did this money come to him through an illegal transaction? Merely possessing drugs doesn’t suggest that unless he has a very large amount that clearly isn’t for personal use.

    Forfeiture is not intended to take away money in the presence of other illegal activity. It’s sad that the judge would even consider that, and says a lot about his, ahem, poor judgement.

    As for Gambill, that piece of trash probably charges something for his time in addition to the cut of the filthy lucre. Might want to file a FOIA request and find out.

  12. #12 |  BamBam | 

    #10, just one more reason why the concept of a state should either be drastically rolled back or dismantled all together. The power abuse careened out of control a long time ago.

  13. #13 |  TC | 

    Lets see…. a guy with a gun steals 17K from you and convinces another member of the LE community tht you are the thief?

    That used to be valid reason to shoot the bastard!

    Preaching to the choir here, but this is really about ethics, Screw the law, in this case there was no available laws protecting the LE folks.

    But lets see, we have GED cops, lawyers as judges, Ok it all makes sense now. Niehter have any ethics.

    Move along folks, nothing to see here.

  14. #14 |  ZappaCrappa | 

    “Under Indiana law, Smelley will not be reimbursed for his time, interest on the money, court costs or attorney’s fees.”

    Well duh…otherwise it’s just a lose lose proposition for the sate and we can’t have that. Seriously.

    And it’s called “justice”….HA! There’s a laugh for you.

  15. #15 |  Scott | 

    OK – I know nothing about law, but how is this over? Won’t the county keep appealing until they win (or a higher court refuses to take the case)?

  16. #16 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Having just read the judgement, I will say I was hard on the judge and unfair. He states unequivocally:

    5. The Plaintiffs here are required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the seized currency is the result of illegal narcotics, as alleged in their forfeiture complaint. Ind. Code 34-24-1-1 et seq.

    6. That although there may be cases, especially when the amount of currency is extraordinary or is undoubtedly disproportionate to the means of the individual from whom seized, such that positive drug signal by certified dog plus large amount of currency meets the seizing authorities’ burden, such is not the case here.

    7. That viewing the totality of the facts here, the Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the seized currency was the result of criminal activity.

    He could (and should) have skipped #6. He lays out elsewhere in the statement of facts that Smelley had demonstrably obtained the money as a settlement and withdrawn it from the bank prior to the stop. That’s all that needed to be said.

  17. #17 |  Michael | 

    Anyone know where Gambill lives? I won’t mind tossing some grass on his lawn and calling the DEA.

  18. #18 |  awp | 

    What does “positive drug signal by certified dog” mean? Who verifies that a signal happened? Who verifies that a signal happened that wasn’t in response to a signal from the officer? Who verifies that a signal didn’t happen because the dog just knows that it is expected to signal?

  19. #19 |  MTX | 

    You said he should have got the money back “…the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car.”

    Why? Is there something about the mere possession of personal property/contraband that you find illegal? Does the mere possession of drugs harm anyone’s freedom or liberty?

    I’m sure we are on the same page here Radley, but by making that statement it appears your willingness to CHOOSE to settle for the “proper” application of the current unconstitutional laws when we should be pushing back.

  20. #20 |  Frank | 

    This is why people build killdozers.

  21. #21 |  Frank | 

    #7 I have a c-note that says that cop won’t serve a day in jail.

  22. #22 |  perlhaqr | 

    MTX: While repealing the repugnant laws against chemical contraband would be a wonderful thing, I think the point Radley was trying to make is that at the very least, we should be able to expect the police to follow the law as it stands today.

  23. #23 |  Michael | 

    The law is becoming irrelevant. Asset seizure is becoming an integral part of city government budgeting.

  24. #24 |  Tim C | 

    “to reach the same outcome he should have been granted the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car” should read “even IF they’d found contraband in his car.”

  25. #25 |  Marc | 

    “I have a c-note that says that cop won’t serve a day in jail.”

    Probably not, but just the fact he got unpaid leave must mean he doesn’t have as many political connections as a typical cop, so it’s possible he could actually get punished, I’m hoping.

  26. #26 |  MTX | 

    “…we should be able to expect the police to follow the law as it stands today.”

    Personally, I don’t “expect” it or WANT IT! Like you said, these laws are repugnant to the oath which these criminals in costumes swore to uphold and to liberty itself.

    Politicians may go right ahead and continue to pass any law they wish, (which they already do). When they finally pass the law where YOU have drawn YOUR line in the sand, do you think we should continue to expect them to enforce that law? What I would expect than, as I hope for now, is for a nation of countrymen to treat these vermin like the highway robbers and murders they are. Nothing more, so much less.

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