Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

By Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Charles B. Frye, Attorney at Law in Houston, Texas, has written an excellent discussion on the government’s fallacious rationales for seizing cash during traffic stops at the Americans for Forfeiture Reform blog. I excerpt this portion and encourage you to read and share the rest:

What are the risks of transporting large sums of cash when you’re traveling?  Obviously, you could get robbed or get involved in an accident and lose the money.  Your car could catch on fire while you’re buying gas and your currency could go up in smoke.  A number of bad things could happen if you carry a large amount of cash on you when you travel.  But, one risk that many folks never consider is that a law enforcement officer could decide to seize your cash,even if you are not committing a crime and the officer cannot show any reason to believe that you have committed a crime.

If you’ve never had a law enforcement officer stop you for a traffic violation and then ask for your “consent” to search your vehicle, you probably find it difficult to believe that you or any other “law abiding citizen” could become embroiled in a criminal case or a forfeiture lawsuitjust because you happen to be carrying a large amount of currency.  But, it can, and does, happen.

One Texas Court of Appeals case, Deschenes v. State, 253 S.W.3d 374 (Tex.App.‑Amarillo 2008, pet. ref.), catalogued the various ways that the State tries to justify a seizure and later forfeiture of a large amount of currency discovered after a traffic stop.  Justice Pirtle wrote in the majority opinion in Deschenes listing twenty two arguments the State advanced to justify the seizure:

“Here, the evidence tending to establish a connection between the money and some unnamed criminal activity amounts to mere conjecture. In support of a nexus between Appellant’s $17,620 and some unidentified “criminal activity,” the State points to profiling characteristics and a positive alert by a narcotics dog: (1) Appellant opened the passenger door to speak to the officer, handed him his wallet when asked for his license, and exited on the passenger side at the officer’s request; (2) car had energy drinks and fast food wrappers on the floorboard giving it a “lived‑in” look; (3) he could not give his uncle’s exact address in San Diego; (4) he was traveling east to west on Interstate 40;[9] (5) he was nervous throughout the encounter; (6) he stared at his vehicle rather than maintaining eye contact when answering one of Esqueda’s questions; (7) he denied carrying a large sum of cash; (8) he was in possession of scales; (9) he avoided showing Esqueda [the investigating officer] the money; (10) the money was in a plastic bag; (11) it was a large amount of money; (12) the money was divided into bundles and wrapped with rubber bands; (13) he had an empty suitcase; (14) he denied having any drugs in his vehicle; (15) he stated he was going to Las Vegas; (16) he failed to produce “documentation” for the money; (17) a narcotics dog alerted to the money and the large empty suitcase; (18) an odor of narcotics on the empty suitcase; (19) the close proximity of the cash to the empty suitcase that presumably contained narcotics at one time; (20) an odor of narcotics on the cash; (21) the money was enough to purchase a felony amount of narcotics; (22) money from drug trafficking travels east to west.”

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15 Responses to “Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop”

  1. #1 |  Steve H. | 

    I just have a hard time believing how stupid people are about dealing with leos. Give them your license, reg and insurance and SHUT UP. SAY NOTHING. except the four most important words in dealing with leos. I NEED A LAWYER. and another important phrase I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY SEARCHES. And join the club of ALWAYS RECORD ALL POLICE ENCOUNTERS.

  2. #2 |  liberranter | 

    “Asset forfeiture” is theft, pure and simple. This fact won’t change, no matter how much legal sophistry is used to attempt to justify or rationalize it.

  3. #3 |  Reformed Republican | 

    he denied having any drugs in his vehicle;

    Which only a guilty person would do, obviously.

  4. #4 |  Personanongrata | 

    Adding to Justice Pirtle’s twenty two arguments the State advanced to justify the seizure:

    23. The “officers” take steal money from innocents because the “officers” are no better than common criminals and they can.

  5. #5 |  Balloon Maker | 

    It’s the gub’mint’s money. theyre just letting you hold it for a while.

  6. #6 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Hi Eapen:

    This year I release a spoken word piece that included the use of scales to justify a police search — although in my piece it is the search of a home rather than a vehicle. Here is the link if you would like to lissen to it:

    The piece is called “Not Not In Your Curtilage.” It is written to emphasize the confusing language that policemen like to use to confuse thinking.

  7. #7 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    Off topic:

  8. #8 |  Brian | 

    “(21) the money was enough to purchase a felony amount of narcotics;”

    So it’s now a criminal offense to even have enough money to buy a felony amount of narcotics? It would sure be nice to know how much money that is if that’s the case. What’s the magic number: $1000? $500?

  9. #9 |  Onlooker | 

    +1 liberranter And if this crap isn’t a violation of our constitution, then we’ve got no rights at all that can’t be rationalized away. It’s just so blatant.

    And I don’t care what the history of this is and how it’s grounded in some age old common law, blah, blah. It’s outright thuggish theft, period.

  10. #10 |  Militant Libertarian » Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop | 

    […] by Eapen Thampy, Agitator / Americans for Forfeiture Reform […]

  11. #11 |  Mike Healy | 

    If you aren’t a politician, cop, or rich, you’re a serf, pure and simple. You have no rights. America seems to have died quite a while ago.

  12. #12 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @2 – So you want rich, white collar criminals to keep the proceeds of their crimes after their derisory jail terms?

    CRIMINAL asset forfeiture is different from the “civil” crap.

  13. #13 |  Griffin3 | 

    @Brian: If I’m reading the law correctly, any amount of a “class one penalty” drug less than a gram is a “state jail felony”, according to Texas §481.115. So, $5 is enough to “enough to purchase a felony amount of narcotics” … right?

  14. #14 |  Bergman | 

    Re: Reformed Republican, #3:

    Innocent people act the way they do because they are innocent. Guilty people act like innocent people because they know that’s how innocent people act. Almost everyone police encounter (including other police) act like innocent people. Being innocent isn’t proof of guilt, but after a while police get used to treating it as a confession, because everyone who is guilty acts that way.

    Re: Brian, #8:

    Given how small an amount of drugs can result in a felony charge in some states, anyone with enough money to buy lunch at elementary school or coffee and a muffin at Starbucks has enough money to qualify under reason #21.

    The technology for anyone with a smartphone to take credit/debit payments is readily available, I foresee the seizure expanding from just cash to all money once the police catch wind of this.

    How many adults have enough money, between their pockets and their bank account, to buy coffee? Under reason #21 in the list, that qualifies all of their money for asset forfeiture at whim.

  15. #15 |  Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop | | 

    […] Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop Posted by MilitantLibertarian on August 11th, 2012 by Eapen Thampy, Agitator / Americans for Forfeiture […]