In May 2016, Braden Carlisle was traveling with friends from Charlotte, South Carolina to Myrtle Beach for the weekend. Carlisle was pulled over by police, who arrested him and seized the $6,600 in cash that was in the car with them.
“It scared the heck out of me,” said Carlisle. “I was like, this is insane. This is insane. This is worse than the stuff you see on the movies.”
Carlisle had planned on having a fun weekend with his friends. “We decided to go gambling,” he said. “Usually we go to the Big M Casino boat that is down there by the Myrtle Beach area. In the meantime, we were just going to enjoy the beach and a few bars in that area.” Since Carlisle and his friends were bartenders, they had decided to take their cash tips with them—along with their recent tax return money—to spend at the casino.
Carlisle was stopped by law enforcement soon after arriving at Myrtle Beach. Police officers searched the car after Carlisle had passed a sobriety test. In addition to the cash, officers also found 3.6 grams of cannabis and pills they claimed were MDMA (the drug known as Ecstasy). The pills, said Carlisle, were his friend’s sexual enhancement supplement and not Ecstacy.
Police were able to seize Carlisle’s cash using a procedure known as civil asset forfeiture. This is where law enforcement is allowed to take possession of an individual’s assets if they are suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, no criminal charges are needed for property to be taken. In South Carolina, the standard of proof required to take property is just “probable cause.” This is far below the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases.
Carlisle fought the seizure in court. Unlike in a criminal case—where the accused has a right to counsel—in civil cases innocent owners either have to pay for an attorney or navigate the complicated legal system themselves.
Even though he had the right to fight for his money back, Carlisle said the officers at the time had told him the money would never be returned to him. “They said it was kind of a forfeiture just because there was drugs involved—that I wasn’t going to see the money back,” he said.
“I’ve seen situations where my clients tell me that they are being told on the side of the road, ‘Hey if you sign this over to us, we won’t charge you with X crime. We, instead, will charge you with this other crime,’” explained Doward Harvin, an attorney based in Hemingway, a city close to Myrtle Beach. “The process for attempting to get the money back is not one that is made public.”
In the end, Carlisle won his case. The charges against him were dismissed, and he won the money back. Carlisle, nonetheless, feels he lost. “It was more of a loss than anything. I mean, almost $10,000 total through this whole ordeal, so the victory, yes, of this not being on my record or anything and everything being dismissed and dropped,” explained Carlisle. “But still this fiasco of the money being lost. I mean, that’s something that I’m never going to see back.”
Once he had paid attorney fees and bond, Carlisle received less than 25 percent of the money that had been taken.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
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