Unfortunately, the answer in Iowa is yes, to the tune of over $100 million in the past 20 years. Even more unbelievable is the fact that no speeding ticket, no warning, and no probable cause has to exist. This practice, legal in all 50 states, is called civil asset forfeiture.
These assets consist of cash or property that is then dumped into law enforcement agencies’ coffers. Some of this money is used for positive purposes, like new equipment and training for police or community involvement efforts funded by law enforcement. It sounds good, but nearly half the money is not tracked or accounted for at all. The amount of money is so large (like the $100 million figure in Iowa) that the practice has come to be known as policing for profit.
The Institute for Justice studied twenty years of this practice and issued their report, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” in early 2020. The data is clear, especially in Iowa. The report indicates that federal and state law enforcement agencies collaborated to sidestep Iowa state laws designed to curb the seizing of citizens’ property without due process. According to the data, the majority of the money is taken from citizens—an average of $900 per stop—who are not drug dealers or terrorists.
In addition, the study reports that in times of economic distress, like a pandemic, the confiscations increase. This points to federal and state law enforcement bolstering their own budget shortfalls through confiscating cash and property from citizens. Lisa Knepper, one of the authors of the Institute’s report, agrees.
“No one should ever lose their property without first being convicted of a crime, but Iowa lawmakers should be especially concerned about forfeiture abuse now, as local governments face increased fiscal pressure amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Knepper said.
Many victims of civil asset forfeiture are the owners of small businesses moving capital from one location to another or making crucial purchases. One example is an Arnolds Park restaurant owner; federal tax agents seized $30,000 of business income from her home in 2013 without accusing her of any crime. Attorneys from the Institute for Justice represented her pro bono and were able to return the cash to her a year later.
In another case, California gamblers William “Bart” Davis and John Newmerzhycky were stopped for failure to signal by Iowa troopers in April 2013 along I-80 in Poweshiek County. The troopers confiscated $100,020 when searching the vehicle. A settlement agreement led to $90,000 being returned along with another $60,000 awarded to the men on grounds that the search was illegal.
This practice of policing for profit is under fire in many states. If you have had cash or property seized by law enforcement, contact an attorney immediately for assistance.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Are you the victim of an airport cash seizure? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.