Civil forfeiture is a process by which law enforcement can confiscate property of citizens when an officer reasonably believes it is more likely than not that the property was involved in the commission of a crime. Sounds innocent, right? Hardly. This practice becomes perverted when the citizen is never formally charged with any crime, and the law enforcement agency still retains the property. As John Oliver humorously explains:
As mentioned, civil forfeiture sounds quite harmless. It allows law enforcement to stop the flow of money and other assets for use in crime. But when property is confiscated that belongs to innocent citizens, it goes way too far.
The most common “property” confiscated in civil forfeiture is cash, or currency. As the video suggests, in a traffic stop, police officers not too uncommonly ask whether there are any “large” amounts of cash or currency in the vehicle. My personal reaction was, “When did it become illegal to carry ‘large’ amounts of currency?”
As the Washington Post suggested in its September 6, 2014 article, “Stop and Seize: Aggressive Police Take Hundreds of Millions of Dollars from Motorists Not Charged with Crimes”, civil forfeiture can often go too far, especially when what is being confiscated is cash.
In one particular civil forfeiture case, as the Washington Post reports in, “Uncle Sam May Have Picked the Wrong Cash Cow”, one particular farmer was penalized for making a decision to structure his cash deposits in a certain way. Under Federal law, a disclosure must be completed and signed by a depositor if any deposit over ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cash is made to a bank at any given time. To avoid this burdensome requirement, dairy farmer Randy Sowers simply divided his cash deposits to sums less than $10,000. According to the Federal agents, this violates the law. Internal Revenue agents seized over $65,000 in Mr. Sowers’ bank account simply because the agents felt that Mr. Sowers avoided the disclosure requirement, and it was never returned. No accusation of any criminal conduct was made against Mr. Sowers. As the Article suggests, this story has gotten national congressional and media attention.
In Indiana, civil forfeiture of cash is governed by statue:
All money, negotiable instruments, securities, weapons, communications devices, or any property used to commit, used in an attempt to commit, or used in a conspiracy to commit an offense under IC 35-47 as part of or in furtherance of an act of terrorism or commonly used as consideration for a violation of IC 35-48-4 (other than items subject to forfeiture under IC 16-42-20-5 or IC 16-6-8.5 5.1, before its repeal):
(A) furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for an act that is in violation of a criminal statute;
(B) used to facilitate any violation of a criminal statute; or
(C) traceable as proceeds of the violation of a criminal statute.
Ind. Code 34-24-1-1(a)(2) (2015).
As well, some civil forfeiture cases interpreting the above Statue suggest that the State must establish a nexus, i.e. connection, by a preponderance of the evidence between the property an a specific alleged crime. (See, Serrano v. State, 946 N.E.2d 1139, 1142-43 (Ind. 2011)).
Citizens should not have to pay a price to recover their rightfully owned property. In my opinion, this Statute should at least provide for the reimbursement by the State for attorney fees incurred in the recovery of such property if the property owner prevails. It currently does not. Often, this makes pursuing the recovery of smaller ‘large’ amounts of cash cost prohibitive.
If this has happened to you, and you have had property confiscated by the agents of law enforcement, SFT Lawyers have skilled and experienced civil forfeiture lawyers who can assist you in getting your property back. CALL US TODAY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION. (219) 841-5683.