legal thievery in blue.

This is a classic asset forfeiture abuse case:

  • Waitress, known to be in a financial bind, is tipped $12,000 via cash in take-out box given to her by a stranger.
  • Waitress takes the cash to police.
  • Cops confiscate it because their drug dog conveniently alerted to pot smell on the box, therefore the cash is seized under  asset forfeiture provisions.
  • Waitress goes public; cops offer her $1,000 “reward”. Waitress turns down the reward and sues.
  • Eventually, PD recognizes the massive PR blunder and unwelcome attention and decides to return the money to her.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the box never smelled of pot, and that if a drug dog ever came close to it, it was prompted by the handler to alert. The fact that they offered her a thousand bucks to shut her up just reinforces that opinion—“finder’s rewards” for asset forfeiture drug money are unprecedented. They saw $12,000 in a box, and decided that OF COURSE it had to be drug money, and don’t we need a new light bar for unit 244?

How’s that War on Drugs coming, America? This kind of stuff happens too often to report. It has turned otherwise law-abiding people—the ones you want on your side, Thin Blue Line—into distrustful adversaries, and cops into something regarded not unlike an occupying army by a lot of people. (What kind of lesson have you taught that waitress and her family, and what kind of attitude will they have toward the police for the rest of their lives? Do you think they’ll ever report anything to you again?)

Asset forfeiture is evil. It was intended to strip assets from drug kingpins, but like RICO, it has been expanded to fit the needs and desires of the state, and now it’s the default position of LE that if you carry more than an average amount of cash on you, it must be drug-related. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that giving the cops a financial incentive to seize property is a very bad idea.

Sadly, nothing’s going to change any time soon, because a.) the War on Drugs is great business for the State at all levels, and because b.) if you oppose that kind of nonsense, you’re clearly a pot-smoking libertarian who’s fine with people driving down the road snorting lines of coke off the dashboard.

And in the meantime, drugs are cheaper and more readily available than ever, our cops dress and arm like the 1st Marines about to invade Iran, and public trust in law enforcement is down the shitter. Getting the government to declare a war on something is a perfect recipe to have that something in abundance a few years later, and yet another edge of the Constitution lit on fire as the new Something Enforcement Agency employs 100,000 and sucks down a few billion in cash every year to keep the racket going.

But hey—legalizing pot would send the wrong message.


25 thoughts on “legal thievery in blue.

  1. Divemedic says:

    The Volusia County, Florida, sheriff’s department set up a “forfeiture trap” to stop motorists traveling Interstate 95 and seized an average of over $5,000 a day from motorists between 1989 and 1992—over $8 million dollars total. In three-quarters of the seizures, no criminal charges were filed. An investigation by the Orlando Sentinel revealed 90 percent of those seizure victims were black or Hispanic. When confronted with this statistic, Volusia County Sheriff Bob Vogel said, “What this data tells me is that the majority of money being transported for drug activity involves blacks and Hispanics.”

    People whose cash was seized by the deputies received scant due process of law; as the Sentinel noted, one deputy told two blacks from whom he had just confiscated $19,000: “You have the right to follow us back to the station and get a receipt.” Even citizens who provided proof that their money was honestly acquired (including a lottery winner’s proof of his lottery receipts) were treated like drug dealers. Volusia County officials routinely offered “settlements” to drivers whose cash they seized, offering to return a percentage of the seized cash if the drivers would sign a form promising not to sue.

  2. Scott says:

    Voting for Gary Johnson this year so I don’t feel like a sucker for voting for disastrous change a la President Obama or like an idiot for voting for a hateful bigot pretending to be fiscally conservative a la Romney.

  3. Matt G says:

    That’s nice, Scott. Uh, how is that pertinent to the post at hand?

    • perlhaqr says:

      Because Gary Johnson is even more of a Libertarian Lunatic ™ on the subject of legalising marijuana than Ron Paul is.

  4. Robert S. Pierre says:

    3/4 of bank notes are tainted by illegal drugs. So of course the dog is going to alert to it.

  5. Tam says:

    The French Revolutionary beat me to it. It is a statistical impossibility for $12,000 in American paper money to not contain traces of dope.

    • Kristopher says:

      Many police dogs have been accidentally retrained to alert on cash. They get much more praise for finding cash than they do for finding ditchweed.

  6. Doug says:

    This is the way of malum prohibitum. We allow the government to forge chains and then they bind US with them. Gun laws, drug laws, rico laws, hell even the tax laws were written for those “filthy rich” folks. These laws are always created to go after those “bad people” and they always turn around and bite us in the a$$. You’d think we would learn…{sigh}

  7. Marko Kloos says:

    Drug dogs, like all domesticated canines, are conditioned to please their handler/owner. If their handler/owner is pleased when the dog “finds” drugs or drug scents, well, then Rover is going to please his uniformed primate friend by “finding” drug scents a lot. The inaccuracy of drug dogs is rather well documented, as is their tendency to respond to handler cues.

    That’s not to say that their noses aren’t way better than human ones, or that they’re useless as detection helpers, but they’re not 100% infallible and neutral scent computers. And when so much rides on their noses–ten year in jail, twenty grand of legally obtained cash money gone, that sort of thing–they shouldn’t be treated as such. Rover don’t care about no Constitut…hey, is that a pot-filled squeaky ball?

    • Why should we take their word for it that there ever was a dog involved at all? Granting that aspect of their very suspicious story seems to be giving them a fig leaf they don’t deserve — if they didn’t intend from the start to take the $12k, why would they even think to bring a dog near it?

    • Tam says:

      I’m somewhat appalled that you felt the need to tell me that.

      I have not had a lobotomy since last we spoke, I can assure you. 😉

  8. Kristopher says:

    Civil forfieture is easy to ban, since it is based strictly on english common law.

    Any existing statute supersedes common law, including city ordinances. If a single government entity passses a law requiring a conviction for civil forieture to proceed, the police will give up that practice there.

    The state of Oregon passed such a law, with exceptions for drunk driving and poaching. Civil forfieture just went away in that state.

  9. Robert S. Pierre says:

    But then you can’t make any money from stealing from people.

  10. markm says:

    It does not matter whether or not the cash smelled faintly of pot, nor whether the handler intentionally prompted the dog. Dogs are even better at reading human body language than at detecting odors. It’s easier for them to read unintentional cues from their handler than to sort out the hundreds of scents on a handful of money, and so if the handler has even a faint opinion that there are drug traces, the mutt will alert.

    Where cop dishonesty comes in is not in prompting the dog, but in continuing to claim that a dog alert is any better “probable cause” than a cop’s hunch.

  11. Tam says:

    Forget the dog. The dog is a Red Herringhound.

    Suppose instead of the dog, they’d used one of the dozens of chemical dye tests and found dope residue on the money. Does taking Fluffy the Four-Legged Fourth Amendment expert out of the picture make it any more right?

    (HINT: No.)

  12. Divemedic says:

    I agree with Tam: it should not matter. A dog’s nose is no replacement for due process. I don’t see where there is an exception in the fourth or fifth amendment for a dog’s opinion.

    As far as probable cause: Studies have shown that dog alerting errors top 80%. So a dog alerting is correct only 20% of the time. That doesn’t sound like anything ‘probable’ to me.

    Depriving someone of property should only be done if the person has been convicted in court.

  13. Mick Havoc says:

    The “War On Drugs” is unamerican, illogical, and futile. It has turned our “peace officers” into immoral revenue agents. After 28 years in big city policing I can no longer be an extra in “Brazil” or “THX1138”

  14. BBJ says:

    What a pantload. Yes, I am just duckie with the war on drugs thanks, and if ya don’t mind – step it up a bit. Ask the inner city slum dwellers what the proliferation of drugs have done to their communities Marko. (And spare me the libertarian bullshit about rights and freedoms. Drugs are the Achilles Heel of libertarianism and legalizing them will only make a bad social problem worse).

    This was a cash grab by corrupt cops. Further, they are quite correct to suspect criminal involvement of some kind – who leaves a $12,000 tip for a waitress? Or carries that kind of money around?

    There is a point when libertarians start working against the common good – in which case you guys are no better than the corrupt cops. Yes, I want my cops to look into this stuff, actually – and if some libertarian idiot thinks its a violation of his rights…oh well…

    • Tam says:


      who leaves a $12,000 tip for a waitress? Or carries that kind of money around?

      None of your goddam business, that’s who.

  15. […] law enforcement agencies have used asset-forfeiture laws to steal eleven thousand dollars from a hard-up waitress, unreasonable interpretations of interstate anti-drug laws to break up families over a pack of […]

  16. Montie says:

    Whoa, BBJ, dude! Perhaps you should avail yourself of some of that proliferated contraband you describe as found in so many inner city communities.

    Despite my best efforts over the last 27 years and the efforts of countless other local, county, state and federal cops, drugs remains prevalent and obtainable. LIke the original gangsters of the prohibition era, modern gangsters become powerful and wealthy thanks to making prohibited substances available to an insatiable public demand. It is said that drinking was never more fashionalbe than during prohibition. Telling someone they can’t have something, makes them want it that much more.

    While I agree that illegal drugs have been a blight on society, not just in the inner cities. Rural areas of my own state have suffered due to methamphetamine production, sales and consumption. I often wonder why there seemingly wasn’t a worse effect when many of these substances were legal. One would think that even more ready availability would have produced a society more along the lines of what we would think of as post apocalyptic. Yet it did not….hmmm. It does make one wonder.

    Now, I will continue to enforce drug laws at every turn, I am just not as convinced it is making things better, as I was years ago, when my first law enforcement job was as an undercover narc.

    When I first became acquanted with the civil forfeiture process, I thought, “Man, what a great tool to hit the drug dealers where it hurts!”. Yet the story retold here by Marko goes to show what that great idea has led to: abuse in the form of overrreaching on questionable grounds by every podunk (and many not so podunk) police department in the country. It has become oftentimes “How much money can we confiscate so that our share can buy us some cool new toys”, without a care for what’s right or moral.

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