In January of this year, a man was subjected to a search and seizure while driving in Camden County, New Jersey. His car was seized by the authorities along with money he had in a bag inside the vehicle that amounted to $43,000. The driver is now suing the Camden County Police Department to get his property back.
According to the driver’s account, he was pulled over by two Camden County Police Department officers who asked to search his car. They allegedly didn’t indicate the reason for the search. The owner, seeing nothing wrong with the request, agreed to the search. He informed the officers beforehand that he had about $43,000 in a bag inside the car that was from his clothing business. He reportedly claimed the money was revenue he collected over a few months from his enterprise that he was using to buy real estate property.
Upon learning about the cash, the officers reportedly invited the man to the police station to discuss the money. The filing claims the officers then took the money and his vehicle under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) possession. The owner was supposedly given a prepared receipt with a hand-written note stating an “undetermined amount of U.S. currency” was seized. While all this was happening, the owner was not charged with any wrongdoing.
According to the lawsuit, the owner was eventually charged with reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, and a safety glass offense. Additionally, the filing reported that the two officers who were central to the case were only temporarily assigned to a group composed of DEA officials and local police. They were supposedly authorized to only issue forfeitures under official investigations.
The lawsuit further argues that the search and seizure didn’t have a sound legal justification. The owner demands his money and car be returned to him in addition to payment for alleged damages rendered that were not specified in the filing. When the police department was asked for their statement on the matter, they said that the case was “part of an active criminal investigation with the DEA.”
New Jersey’s civil asset forfeiture laws scored a D minus in the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit survey. The basic standard allowing authorities to seize property in the state only requires a preponderance of evidence that the asset being seized was used in committing a crime. The burden of proof lies with the property owner, and they have to shoulder any potential lawyer fees.
All the proceeds from property seized by authorities goes to their department fund, and there is no prerequisite reporting on forfeitures. With rules like that, it’s easy to see why civil forfeiture laws in New Jersey can be subject to abuse by authorities.
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