No Charges, but Police Keep the Cash

March 26, 2009

by Roger Koppl

That’s the headline in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne:  No charges, but police keep the cash.  (HT Michelle Thomas.) Yep, property seizures do not require that the persons from whom the property was seized be actually, you know, like guilty of a crime or anything. The police found $26,000 cash in a traffic stop. No charges beyond the speeding ticket, but they kept the cash. The Journal Gazette reports, “Having that much cash is not a crime, but police have the right to seize it if they suspect it has been used or procured through criminal means. Most of the money seized comes from drug cases and can then be used by various law enforcement agencies.” The head of the vice unit of the local Sheriff’s office explains matter-of-factly, “If it’s way, way over and above what a normal person will carry, and if things don’t add up (on how it was acquired), we take the money.” Explain yourself! And if we don’t like your explanation, we get to keep the money.

Don Boudreaux and A. C. Pritchard were railing against the evils of civil-forfeiture laws over a decade ago. (Donald J. Boudreaux & A.C. Pritchard, Civil Forfeiture and the War on Drugs: Lessons from Economics and History, 33 SAN DIEGO L. REV. 79 (1996). See also their “report” found here.)  Such forfeitures are an unambiguous evil brought on, like no-knock warrants, by the “war on drugs.”

Liberals have always recognized that real shootin’ wars are not only a great evil in themselves, but a dire threat to domestic liberty. The war on drugs has become a real shootin’ war. It is a great evil in itself and a dire threat to domestic liberty.

5 Responses to “No Charges, but Police Keep the Cash”

  1. ThomasL Says:

    “If it’s way, way over and above what a normal person will carry…”

    And later in the article:

    “…the cases with smaller amounts of cash, from $1,000 to $4,000…”

    Is $1000 really “way, way over and above what a normal person” would carry? I rarely carry that much, but I wouldn’t describe $1000 with a five word string of superlatives.

    I am reading between the lines, but if they pulled over a guy driving a Lexus with a three-piece suit and a Rolex on his wrist, I wonder if the they’d think $1-4k was “way, way over” what he should have.

    Now what if it is a guy driving a ’75 Ltd., a baseball hat, and ratty clothes?

    I’m not saying it isn’t a little suspicious, but I am saying it certainly is not blind and impartial justice.

    I add this as an additional critique of something which should never be allowed in the first place.

  2. Lee Says:

    “Normal people” understand the level of corruption of their local law enforcement and therefore don’t carry “interesting” amounts of cash.

  3. Roger Koppl Says:

    Great comment, Thomas. We cannot unambiguously measure the amount of plain bigotry behind police actions. An individual police officer may wish sincerely to be fair and equitable and yet be inequitable in his behaviors. He might, for example, be more likely to stop a black driver for failure to use his turn signal. That might be so even if he would be mortified by such a thought. Plus, of course, some cops are just openly hostile to certain groups. It is a cliche that the police may stop you for the crime of “driving while black.” Unfortunately, that’s a cliche for a reason!

    Race is just the most salient of several forms of bogus discrimination that some police fall into. Civil forfeiture gives greater scope to such bigotries, which is one of its evils. The injustices of civil forfeiture do not rain down on us randomly. I’m not aware of any real measure of, like, what percent of the police are bad guys in this way. Whether it is small or large, however, we should not increase the scope of operation for their false prejudices, whereas civil forfeiture does just that. I tend to think, BTW, that you are more tuned to the risk of corruption in law enforcement the more likely you are to suffer from such corruption.


  4. thanks for this post. It helped me a lot. Btw How you get ideas for such posts. sorry if it’s out of topic.


  5. […] linking the property itself to illegal activity, even if the owner is not involved in the crime. Roger Koppl wrote about this issue here on ThinkMarkets a while back, citing the work of Don Boudreaux and A. C. […]


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