Civil Asset Forfeiture and due process

One of the major issues often articulated in the libertarian community is civil asset forfeiture.

Time again, we hear stories of police taking cash and sometimes other goods from people they stop on highways, without charges.

German Lopez has a particularly galling story on Vox about Phil Parhamovich, who apparently was driving through Wyoming with about $91000 in cash, on a concert tour, intending then to drive to Madison WI, to buy a music studio and make a major career change.

Hear Laramie WY (ironically, the town where Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998) he was pulled over in a routine traffic stop, and searched.  The police wound up keeping the $91000 despite not charging him with anything, and the state until recently refused to budge on returning it.

Lopez now reports that, after the story appeared in Vox, the state agreed to refund the money.

Several observations apply. One of the most obvious is why law enforcement is “funded” this way, by what police can keep when they seize something.  Another is why they can keep anything when the driver is not charged with a crime or a person of interest, and when no illegal or suspicious material is found.  There sounds like a pretty obvious question in this case about any probable cause.

I was stopped for speeding when driving through the Chicago suburbs Labor Day morning in 1997 when driving out for a corporate job transfer to Minneapolis. The cop did ask me about weapons and drugs, for no reason.  Police do say that random checks help them find possible terror suspects. The cop then noticed a stack of copies of my authored “Do Ask Do Tell” book and was impressed that I was an “author” and let me go without a ticket.

In 1998, I was stopped in St. Paul on University Ave in an area of wide streets and little traffic, on the way back from a speaking engagement at Hamline University on my book. That’s the most recent ticket I can remember.  But I still had crutches in my car, from my earlier hip fracture, but the cop never said anything about that.  I wound up paying an $85 “administrative fee” to have a “first offense” removed after a year.

Of course, one can always wonder about the practical wisdom of carrying a lot of cash.

Laura Williams, in a guest post on Rick Sincere’s blog, explains how drug laws, especially regarding marijuana, are in part motivated by the opportunity for forfeiture.

Wikipedia scene of Ames Monument north of Laramie.  I visited it in August 1994.

(Posted: Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

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