In 2016, police in New Hampshire stopped a car for speeding and tailgating. They seized the $46,000 in cash they discovered inside. More than 18 months after it was taken, a man claiming to be the rightful owner of the money is petitioning to have it returned to him.
On October 3, 2016, state troopers pulled over a red Hyundai registered in Massachusetts. The police report stated that the driver, Alexander Temple, had shaking hands and looked nervous. Temple gave permission for the trooper to examine his car. In the trunk, the officer found the $46,000 in 20-dollar bills neatly wrapped up inside a Whole Foods bag.
When asked how he had obtained the money, Temple said his sister had given him the cash. The police called Temple’s sister, but she explained this was not the case—the money was not hers.
No drugs were found in Temple’s car, nor was there any evidence of drug use. Temple was not charged with a crime. Nevertheless, the police seized the $46,000.
As Gilles Bissonnette, a lawyer with the ACLU, explained, “It appears that the government is of the view that it is illegal to be traveling with $46,000 in cash. … It is, of course, not illegal to be traveling with $46,000 in cash.”
Earlier in 2016, New Hampshire changed its laws regarding property seizures by police in an attempt to stop abuses of the system. Under the new civil asset forfeiture rules, property may only be taken by law enforcement once the property owner has been found guilty of a crime.
Although civil asset forfeiture has essentially been banned at the state level, there are no restrictions in place regarding federal forfeiture cases. As in other areas of the country where restrictions have been placed on state civil asset forfeiture procedures, New Hampshire law enforcement has increased its use of the federal “Equitable Sharing” program. In these cases, local law enforcement can avoid state regulations by handing cases over to the federal government. In return, the federal government takes a 20 percent cut of the proceeds, while the remaining 80 percent goes directly back to local or state law enforcement.
“There’s definitely a loophole that allows state and local law enforcement to bypass state policy,” explained Greg Moore of Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire. “If the government is going to take people’s money away, there should be a high bar. And if you are suggesting that this money was a derivative of a crime, then there should be a conviction of that crime in order to start seizing… people’s money.”
In a twist to this particular story, Temple isn’t himself challenging the seizure of money from his car. Instead, Maine resident Edward Phipps has come forward and claimed the cash as his own. He has stated the money was lawfully obtained. The trial, U.S. vs. $46,000, is slated to begin in December. At this time, Phipps will probably explain where the money came from and how it was that it was in a Whole Foods bag in Alexander Temple’s car in New Hampshire that evening.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
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