ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A trucker has sued the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking to get back nearly $24,000 seized by DEA agents earlier this month at a weigh station on U.S. 54 in New Mexico north of El Paso, Texas.

Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.

“The government took Mr. Prieto’s money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night,” Simonson said. “In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator.”

A good overview of the travesty of forfeiture laws can be found here.

Civil asset forfeiture defines a new standard of justice in America; or more precisely, a new standard of injustice. Under civil seizure, property, not an individual is charged with an offense. Even if you are a totally innocent owner, the government can still confiscate your “guilty” property.

If government agents seize your property under civil asset forfeiture, you can forget about being innocent until proven guilty, due process of law, the right to an attorney, or even the right to trial. All of those rights only exist if you are charged with a criminal offense; that is, with an offense which could result in your imprisonment. If you (or your property) are accused of a civil offense (offenses which could not result in your imprisonment), the Supreme Court has ruled that you have no presumption of innocence, no right to an attorney, and no protection from double jeopardy.

Seizure occurs when government takes away your property. Forfeiture is when legal title is permanently transferred to the state. To get seized property returned, you have to fight the full resources of your state or federal government; sometimes both! You have to prove your property’s “innocence” by documenting how you earned every cent used to pay for it. You have to prove that neither you nor any of your family members ever committed an illegal act involving the property.

To get a trial, you have to post a non-refundable “bond” of 10% of the value of your property. You have to pay attorney fees – ranging from $5,000 to over $100,000 – out of your own pocket. Money you pay your attorney is also subject to seizure (either before or after the trial) if the government alleges that those funds were “tainted.” And you may be forced to go through trial after trial, because under civil seizure the Constitutional protection against “double jeopardy” doesn’t apply. Once your property is seized, expect to spend years fighting government agencies and expect to be impoverished by legal fees – with no guarantee of winning – while the government keeps your car, home and bank account.

In fact, in a recent Supreme Court decision (Bennis v. Michigan), the Court said explicitly that innocent owners can be deprived of their property if it’s used to facilitate a crime, even without the owner’s knowledge or consent. That means you can now lose your home or business because of the action of employees, relatives, or guests, over whom you have absolutely no control.

  1. Angel H. Wong says:

    Unless of course, if you are one of Bush’s pals, you can get away with crime.

  2. Cinaedh says:

    It’s obvious the oligarchy has decided this “democracy experiment” is a failure and has continued long enough. They want “their money” back from the rest of us and they’re just going to take it.

  3. OhFrak! says:

    Yeah, or Clinton or his friends, too! Right on, man.

  4. Stars & Bars says:

    This is nothing new. Take a look at what is happening in Arizona.

    Several years ago, task force investigators began obtaining warrants to freeze suspicious wire transfers. Recipients cannot get their money unless they demonstrate to police that it is legitimate. Unclaimed funds are forfeited under racketeering statutes and used for law enforcement.

    The article continues.

    The Attorney General’s Office said that more than four-fifths of the seizures go unchallenged and that not one person has recovered funds by going to court.

  5. chuck says:

    “When L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets.”

    So following the logic of this story, Paul Bremer must be the biggest drug dealer in the world – unless he can prove otherwise.

  6. Steve S says:

    Suspected criminal behavior is not the only way the Federal or State government can take your money.

    Starting in 1959, the State of California began seizing personal assets on the pretext that after a few years of account or safe-deposit box inactivity, property is obviously “lost,” and the state needs to “protect” it by selling it off and depositing the proceeds into the general fund.

  7. SN says:

    4, I wrote about that nearly a year ago. But it’s still worth repeating. Thanks.

  8. Col Fuzz says:

    There are criminals and criminals with badges,
    they’re both out to get you, it’s a police state.

  9. Mister Mustard says:

    >>I think you have to declare anything over $10,000

    You have to declare anything over $10,000 to customs IF YOU TAKE IT OVER THE BORDER. The article fails to disclose if he was found with it coming across the border, although it says he was busted “on Rt 54 north of El Paso” at a weigh station.

    If he didn’t bring it across the border, this is just another example of Little King George’s police state. If he did bring it across the border, tsk, tsk, tsk.

  10. ECA says:

    Lets take a drug dog threw a few corps…
    What a Haul..

  11. nightstar says:

    Asset Forfeiture is dirty business. Law extortion ahem…enforcement agencies have a vested interest in seizing assets as they get to keep said assets to use in their continued operations. Sounds sort of like piracy doesn’t it. Add to that reverse onus and double jeopardy, the only things missing are a black bag, cable ties and an airplane ride.

  12. GregA says:

    Also…. drug dogs are one of the biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American public by law enforcement. Woah, the police have managed to teach dogs to sit on command when ever they want to search further. Pshaw!


    I was in boarding school, and we had monthly drug dog searches, and they never found ANYTHING. Drug dogs are part of a psychological ploy by law enforcement to make you think they have supernatural powers of drug detection… Which they don’t… They are about as valid as lie detector tests, and in the next couple of years courts will start to looks at the science of drug dogs and will omit them the same way they omit confessions under torture and lie detector tests.

  13. flyingelvis says:

    an illustration of the need for the 2nd amendment.

  14. Noname says:

    What do you expect. We have become a country of theories and abhors facts. Facts are boring and time consuming.

    People in general want to hear what they want to believe. This didn’t start with Bush and Co, but; he sure has perfected it. The problem with facts is they get in the way of “your truth, as you want to believe it”.

    This law is all about a theory, and denies facts.

    The theory: you have no reason to carry large sums of money excepting if your a criminal. It then taunts the public to prove this wrong.

    Facts: This theory has never been established, excepting by someones fiat.

    All they have to do, show some supportive anecdotal examples, claim how it has helped police fight crime and the “dumb, stupid” public will buy it, support it and even fight for it. So much so, they make it impossible for innocent people to “prove” they aren’t guilty. Welcome to the new America.

    America is the product of it’s voters and lack of protesters. Heaven forbid the Dixie Chicks should voice their opinion or protest.

  15. robert lawson says:

    Louisiana is the most outrageous at this. From the Texas border to Lake Charles, you will see cars along I10 pulled over about every 5 miles. Some are completely pulled apart. Too much cash on you or anything suspicious about the car and it goes to the local parish. It is better than raising taxes.

  16. Steve Savage says:

    Drug dealers are smarter than to try and drive truckloads of cash across borders. they use anonymous bank transactions, private aircraft flights.
    Forfeiture laws exist because the federal government is a voracious consumer of people’s tax money. Any time they see large amounts of cash in one spot they suspect that you haven’t paid taxes on it.

  17. susan says:

    I give thanks every day I don’t live in good ol USA.
    No wonder they are fighting you in Iraq. Who would want you f**ked up form of goverment.

  18. Arnie says:

    It has only begun…

  19. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    I’ve wracked the organ I’m pleased to refer to as my ‘brain’ and I’m still at a loss to come up with another law in this country so blatantly, obviously, 100% in arrogant, nose-thumbing totalitarian defiance of the Constitution.

    This is one of the, if not the, major reason I refuse to worship at the altar of the ACLU. They treat this issue like a triviality when they bother to pay it any notice whatsoever. That no one can be bothered to confront those in Congress who countenance this travesty, let alone the corrupt and / or brainless scum that support it, shows how truly self-centered and apathetic the people sheeple have become.

    The fact that the public just sits by and watches this happen makes me wonder if this country is even worth saving. Let one-tenth of the effort now put into fighting paying taxes be redirected into ending this practice and it would be gone in a trice.

    Stop this obscene abuse of citizen’s rights and a major source of gov’t corruption would vanish.

  20. Emma Goldman says:

    Check out the videos “Never Get Busted” by Barry Cooper, a former cop, who explains how the dog search is just a lie.

    The ACLU’s “BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters” is also interesting.

    I’ve seen these videos online in the usual places.

  21. Guyver says:

    If I recall correctly, the government can do the same at airports if you have too much money on hand. This was either due to money laundering or not paying taxes on said money before you left the country to become an ex-patriot. One of the last successful attempts was done by the aire of the Campbell soup company back in the early 90s if memory serves me right.

    Sorta fuzzy on this. Anyone else recall?

  22. KVolk says:

    I bet Visa/Mastercard/Amex cabal is really behind this so that we can go cashless as a society and they can create the universal credit card. Government is just their stooge being bribed by free tax money……buwhahahaha.

  23. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #14 – an illustration of the need for the 2nd amendment.

    Because after they take your money, you’ll want to shoot a federal officer and spend your remaining days in prison. As I’ve said before, I don’t care if you get to keep your guns or not, but guns are not relevant in any quarrel with the government.

    #18 – Who would want you f**ked up form of goverment.

    It isn’t the “form” of government that is fucked up. But certainly, there is something fucked up in the government.

    #20 – This is one of the, if not the, major reason I refuse to worship at the altar of the ACLU. They treat this issue like a triviality when they bother to pay it any notice whatsoever.

    When did this become a First Amendment issue?

    I’m not aware of there being a rash of citizens trying to carry large sums of cash around. Hell, I don’t know anyone with a large sum of cash. The way this failing economy is going, I wouldn’t be surprised if we return to a barter system in the next few decades.

  24. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    #24 – OFTLO

    “When did this become a First Amendment issue?”

    It didn’t. It’s a Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment issue. That annoying (to Republicans) little bit about the people not being deprived of their property except by due process of law. Remember that?

  25. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #25 – Yes… I do remember that. The point was that “generally” the ACLUs core competency is in issues related to the 1st. However, now that you mention it, I went to the ACLU site and read this:

    The mission of the ACLU is to preserve all of these protections and guarantees:

    * Your First Amendment rights – freedom of speech, association and assembly; freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.
    * Your right to equal protection under the law – equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion or national origin.
    * Your right to due process – fair treatment by the government whenever the loss of your liberty or property is at stake.
    * Your right to privacy – freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into your personal and private affairs.

    Well… Right there it is… Bullet point number three. So you are right.

    Now my question is why isn’t the ACLU dealing with this? I still say that issues regarding citizens have vast sums of cash confiscated happens so rarely as to get triaged to a lessor priority… but that must be of little comfort to the guy who had his money stolen by the Fed. (and I think “stolen” is a fair word to use there)

  26. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    ‘Stolen is correct – but the focus shouldn’t be on only the few who get robbed of their cash money, there’s the unfortunates who have their land stolen out from under them because of marijuana “found” growing anywhere on the property, no matter how large and impossible to completely patrol it may be – and uncountable thosands of regular people who lose their vehicles in drug and prostitution ‘stings.’ You’re arrested, your vehicle is seized before you’re ever convicted of any crime – IF you even ARE ever convicted, they still have your vehicle. If you owe on it, well, tough shit. And if the underlying ‘offense’ is a petit misdemeanor, something punishable by a couple-hundred dollar fine or such, your $40,000 car is gone for good. That’s not only absence of due process, it’s also ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’

    And unlike these large cash seizures, this shit goes on every day, all over Amerika…

  27. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #27 – Your point is stunningly well made, and I’d have thought of it myself were it not for this terrible head cold that is clouding my thinking.

    On the other hand, I think I will plant marijuana seeds on the property of my enemies… 🙂

  28. Phillep says:

    This type of theft predates Bush.

    Don’t go after the cops, replacements can be hired by the dozen. Go after the politicians who tell the cops what to do.

  29. Lauren the Ghoti says:

    Yes, it predates Bush 43, all right.

    It started during the Reagan Administration, with high drug-warrior muck-a-muck George H.W. Bush, that swell personage whose actions brought about the invention of ‘crack’ cocaine.

    The Bush legacy of public “service” goes w a y back.

    BTW, “service” means like how a bull “services” a cow…

  30. Osmodious says:

    Haven’t you seen those ludicrous Visa commercials that imply that you are evil and mean if you use cash? They have a smooth running world and then you step up with your cash and ruin everyone’s day…how DARE you pay with cash!


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