Widespread Abuse: Police Seize Cash From Motorists

When you’re pulled over by a police officer, you should reasonably expect a few things to happen: they will probably ask for your license and registration and they may even ask you to step out of your vehicle for further questioning. You should not expect the law enforcement officers to seize your cash, especially when you’re not charged with a crime.
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All over the country, law enforcement officers from thousands of departments are regularly seizing cash from motorists they pull over — and it’s a federal government program that’s allowing them to do so.

As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, in the last 13 years, over $2.5 billion has been taken away from people who were never charged with a crime; most of that money, which was taken from innocent motorists, was spread out among state-level law enforcement agencies for their own use.

The sanctioned practice of seizing cash from motorists is referred to as an interdiction, which was created for the purpose of seizing money from drug dealers and potential terrorists. Unfortunately, it’s not just drug dealers and terrorists that are feeling the burden created by this legal practice. Thousands of Americans, including many right here in Florida, have had their cash seized when pulled-over, even though they had never been, and never ended up being, charged with a crime.

The seizing of cash is permissible under the Justice Department’s Civil Asset Forfeiture program, dating back to the 1980s, which was created for the purpose of taking money believed to have a connection to crimes.

Essentially, the seizure of your cash is legal if the police have reason to believe that the money is related to criminal activity. No criminal charges must be filed in order for the law enforcement department to keep the cash they’ve taken from you. If you want to recover the money, the burden is on you to prove that the money was not and is not connected to criminal activity. As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, proving that something isn’t true is quite difficult to do; that’s why, in a court of law, the defendant doesn’t have to prove he or she didn’t commit a crime — the prosecution has to prove that they did.

Since September 11th, 2001, there have been roughly 62,000 cash seizures made on highways and other places without warrants or indictments. Despite the fact that victims of the cash seizure program can petition to have their money returned, the Washington Post reports that only 1 out of every 6 individuals who had their cash seized challenges the seizure; this is, in large part, due to the steep cost associated with taking legal action against the government.

American citizens pay taxes in part so that law enforcement departments can have a dependable budget; they shouldn’t have to worry that they are going to have their money seized from them based on one officer’s suspicion of criminal activity.

If you have a question about this or any other criminal defense or law enforcement issue, please contact our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.

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