Asset Forfeiture Madness in Tennessee

I’ve written for years about the astonishing abuses brought on by the civil asset forfeiture laws in this country. Here’s one of the most egregious cases I’ve heard of. And just look at the conversation between the newspaper and the officer who seized the money. He stopped a guy who was carrying $20,000 in cash. There wasn’t even a hint that he’d broken any law, but the officer seems to think that’s completely irrelevant:

A Monterey police officer wanted to know if he was carrying any large amounts of cash.

“I said, ‘Around $20,000,’” he recalled. “Then, at the point, he said, ‘Do you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ I certainly didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong. It was my money.”

That’s when Officer Larry Bates confiscated the cash based on his suspicion that it was drug money.

“Why didn’t you arrest him?” we asked Bates.

“Because he hadn’t committed a criminal law,” the officer answered.

Bates said the amount of money and the way it was packed gave him reason to be suspicious.

“The safest place to put your money if it’s legitimate is in a bank account,” he explained. “He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”

“But it’s not illegal to carry cash,” we noted.

“No, it’s not illegal to carry cash,” Bates said. “Again, it’s what the cash is being used for to facilitate or what it is being utilized for.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, “But you had no proof that money was being used for drug trafficking, correct? No proof?”

“And he couldn’t prove it was legitimate,” Bates insisted.

So he was breaking no law. The officer had no evidence at all or even any reason to suspect that the money had anything to do with a crime. But he took the money anyway, and he justifies it by saying that the guy couldn’t prove that it was legitimate. Innocent until proven guilty? What a quaint concept. Where do you think you live, in a free country with the rule of law? Worse yet, the man wasn’t even notified of a court hearing about it:

He said that, while police are required to get a judge to sign off on a seizure within five days, state law says that hearing “shall be ex parte” — meaning only the officer’s side can be heard.

That’s why George Reby was never told that there was a hearing on his case.

“It wouldn’t have mattered because the judge would have said, ‘This says it shall be ex parte. Sit down and shut up. I’m not to hear from you — by statute,” Miles added.

But it actually gets worse. The man was shopping for a car and was going to pay cash, and he had evidence on his computer that he was car shopping. But the officer chose not to even note that in his report:

George Reby said that he told Monterey officers that “I had active bids on EBay, that I was trying to buy a vehicle. They just didn’t want to hear it.”

In fact, Reby had proof on his computer.

But the Monterey officer drew up a damning affidavit, citing his own training that “common people do not carry this much U.S. currency.”

“On the street, a thousand-dollar bundle could approximately buy two ounces of cocaine,” Bates told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

“Or the money could have been used to buy a car,” we observed.

“It’s possible,” he admitted.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Bates if Reby had told him that he was trying to buy a car?

“He did,” the officer acknowledged.

“But you did not include that in your report,” we noted.

“If it’s not in there, I didn’t put it in there.”

So why did he leave that out?

“I don’t know,” the officer said.

I’d call this unbelievable,but it’s entirely believable. And all too common.

26 comments on this post.
  1. Reginald Selkirk:

    I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”

    That’s no longer true, since the 2008 financial meltdown. I believe at present my checking account earns 0.05% and my saving a whopping 0.10%. That’s probably higher than some others because my ‘bank’ is a credit union.

  2. matty1:

    I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”

    That’s no longer true,since the 2008 financial meltdown.

    In fact if your interest rate is less than inflation keeping money in the bank means you loose value. Of course you also loose value if you keep it in cash, which is why you should spend it now while it’s still worth something. I suggest buying a car, or maybe a couple of ounces of coke.

  3. Reginald Selkirk:

    You post about this stuff pretty regularly. So what happens? It seems obvious that the state law is unconstitutional. Will it be stricken? Why hasn’t it already?

  4. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne:

    I suggest buying a car, or maybe a couple of ounces of coke.

    It would probably be cheaper to buy the cop.

  5. d cwilson:

    It would probably be cheaper to buy the cop.

    Or buy the cop a few ounces of coke.

    This is why the war on drugs will never end. It’s such a huge money maker for state and local law enforcement.

  6. d cwilson:

    “Then, at the point, he said, ‘Do you mind if I search your vehicle?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’

    Right there was his fatal error. Never, ever consent to a search of your vehicle. If he has to ask your permission, that means he doesn’t have probable cause and you have the right to refuse .

  7. Brony:

    These are all generalizations, but true enough to represent a pattern.

    *Law enforcement authorities want simple obedience, and treating any questioning of authority, or recording of authorities as a threat.

    *Any attempt to challenge the system outside of the current party/electoral system is treated as a threat and undermined, with brutal help from the same law enforcement.

    *The criminal justice system is pretty much a punishment regime that produces more criminals, and now seems to be focusing on making even more criminals through abuse in private cronyism created compounds.

    *Any attempt to make the process more transparent is treated as a threat and brutally quashed. Conversely attempts to spy on citizens and filter for information are increasing with little media comment.

    *Administrations, regardless of party, invent legal strategies to keep this system on this path, no longer caring about things like power limits.

    *The ignorant suffering conservatives at the average voter level are lashing out at everything that is changing or “scary” (pretty much what they are told is scary).

    *The liberals are blind or apathetic to the above corruption due to the need to stop Romney at any cost.

    *…and the only thing that matters in this process is money. The digitized symbol of the efforts of citizens, used to purchase suffering bestowed upon the same.

    The Country seems to be cracking. Does anyone here have anything to give some optimism? I’m all out.

  8. augustpamplona:

    Innocent until proven guilty?

    That applies to individuals (who were not charged). As to seized property, despite some reform in the 1990′s,… not so much.

  9. augustpamplona:

    Right there was his fatal error. Never, ever consent to a search of your vehicle. If he has to ask your permission, that means he doesn’t have probable cause and you have the right to refuse.

    Nah, he just told them he was carrying 20 grand. That’s too much money to be ignored when it could otherwise be used to pimp up a D.A.R.E. automobile. If he had refused the search, as is indeed his right, he would have simply been detained on the side of the road for as long as it would take to get a K-9 unit to his car. At that point the K-9 would be used to manufacture probable cause.

    The final outcome would have been the same.

  10. laurentweppe:

    It would probably be cheaper to buy the cop.

    Or a gun, then used to kill the cop…
    You know, for a country which romanticizes righteous revenge as much as the US, I’m sometimes surprised not to see more cases of massive vengeful riots, or more cases of authority figures being murdered in cold blood for being, well, authority figures.

  11. michaelcrichton:

    Reginald Selkirk

    It seems obvious that the state law is unconstitutional.

    To a layperson, it may seem that way, but “luckily” we have Supreme Court justices only too happy to parse the apparently plain language of the 4th Amendment to prove that it isn’t.

    And as for the locals, as long as the police only target outsiders, they could not care less. Money confiscated from other people means less taxes they have to pay.

  12. d cwilson:

    Or a gun, then used to kill the cop…

    Just make sure you’re in a “stand your ground” state.

  13. d cwilson:

    If he had refused the search, as is indeed his right, he would have simply been detained on the side of the road for as long as it would take to get a K-9 unit to his car.

    And while he’s calling in the K-9 unit, you say those four magic words: I want a lawyer. It may not stop them from searching your car anyway, but bringing a lawyer in early will make shaking you down (And let’s call this what it is: a shake down) that much harder.

    Admittedly, volunteering that he had the $20 Gs was a mistake in the first place.

    This is the mistake many make when dealing with the police: They assume that just because they haven’t done any wrong, the police won’t find some excuse detain you or trick you into admitting something you didn’t do. Never submit to an interrogation without a lawyer present and never consent to a search without a warrant. You never know when a cop will suddenly “find” a joint or a bag of coke in your car.

  14. d cwilson:

    You know, for a country which romanticizes righteous revenge as much as the US, I’m sometimes surprised not to see more cases of massive vengeful riots, or more cases of authority figures being murdered in cold blood for being, well, authority figures.

    That’s because, as much as Americans like to fantasize about being Clint Eastwood, we’re really a nation of sheep.

  15. Ed Brayton:

    Reginald Selkirk wrote:

    You post about this stuff pretty regularly. So what happens? It seems obvious that the state law is unconstitutional. Will it be stricken? Why hasn’t it already?

    Because the courts have applied different rules to civil asset forfeitures, which is a legal fiction. The legal case is actually filed against the money or the property, not the person who owns it, and it’s a civil proceeding. It’s total bullshit, but the courts have allowed it to continue.

  16. Reginald Selkirk:

    Does the money or property ever file a countersuit?

  17. Trickster Goddess:

    This literally highway robbery.

  18. augustpamplona:

    And while he’s calling in the K-9 unit, you say those four magic words: I want a lawyer. It may not stop them from searching your car anyway, but bringing a lawyer in early will make shaking you down (And let’s call this what it is: a shake down) that much harder.

    How does the average person get a lawyer while standing by the side of the road?

    Admittedly, volunteering that he had the $20 Gs was a mistake in the first place.

    So let’s go back to that point. When asked a direct question many people are simply going to give a direct and truthful answer. What should one reply to such a question? It may be obvious to you but the fact that one doesn’t need to give a police officer anything more than license, vehicle registration & proof of insurance (that’s correct, isn’t it?) is not obvious to most people. I’d even guess that many people would consider not answering “routine questions” from the police officer as seeming impolite and would fear that it might be taken as antagonizing the officer (which is something which you definitely do not want to do).

    This is the mistake many make when dealing with the police: They assume that just because they haven’t done any wrong, the police won’t find some excuse detain you or trick you into admitting something you didn’t do. Never submit to an interrogation without a lawyer present and never consent to a search without a warrant. You never know when a cop will suddenly “find” a joint or a bag of coke in your car.

    So what to do?

    Does the following video seem reasonable?
    http://www.flexyourrights.org/node/342

  19. d.c.wilson:

    How does the average person get a lawyer while standing by the side of the road?

    That’s not the point. The point is to invoke your right to counsel as soon as possible. It ends all interrogation and attempts to trip you up.

  20. Ben P:

    And while he’s calling in the K-9 unit, you say those four magic words: I want a lawyer. It may not stop them from searching your car anyway, but bringing a lawyer in early will make shaking you down (And let’s call this what it is: a shake down) that much harder.

    That’s not the point. The point is to invoke your right to counsel as soon as possible. It ends all interrogation and attempts to trip you up.

    and I get to be the bearer of bad news…. I was dealing with something similar a couple weeks ago.

    In this precise situation, (traffic stop, cop asks you some questions and then asks if he can search your car, you refuse and cop takes some act that leads you to believe you are not yet free to leave (still holding your license is the typical act), you ask to see a lawyer.

    I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that the officer will tell you (tough shit) “you don’t have a right to lawyer right now.”

    This type of situation is a chink in the armor so to speak between the 5th and 6th amendments.

    The 5th Amendment and Miranda only apply to “custodial interrogation,” the only remedy is that if they violate it, they can’t use anything you say. Searches done after the right to counsel is invoked are constitutional and even if they interrogate you in volation of Miranda and you give them information leading to a search, the search is still good.

    The 6th Amendment right to counsel only applies when formal charges are filed. No charges were ever filed in this case.

    The way cops are taught this is “read them their miranda rights from the card, but if you’re not asking them questions, they don’t have the right to a lawyer present.”

    The situation I was dealing with was a person who invoked his right to counsel and was held for more than two hours at a hospital while cops berated him into consenting to a urine test. Under state law there are administrative penalties for refusing a urine test, but absent the test there’s no evidence of intoxication.

    As ridiculous as that situation is, it’s constitutional under current law.

    The “holding you on the side of the road to search your car on a pretext” is similar. You can demand counsel, the cop will reply “tough shit” and they’ll search your car anyway.

  21. sosw:

    That’s because, as much as Americans like to fantasize about being Clint Eastwood, we’re really a nation of sheep.

    I would think Dirty Harry -type thinking is part of the problem; while asset forfeiture may be legal, the attitude that leads cops to apply it is the same one that leads them to consider themselves above the law and scrutiny.

  22. davidb:

    So what is happening? Has the guy got his money back?

    David B

  23. roggg:

    Seize all the assets!

    All your cash are belong to us?

  24. acwacw:

    davidb @ 22: The guy got his money back, but had to drive back to Tennessee to pick up the check. Details are at the linked story.

  25. kermit.:

    laurentweppe: I’m sometimes surprised not to see more cases of massive vengeful riots, or more cases of authority figures being murdered in cold blood for being, well, authority figures.

    Sometimes we do. But we are terrible strategists, and most of us are so ignorant that we don’t have a good grasp of the dynamics of corruption. When one of us does lose it and get violent, we tend to shoot the receptionist rather than the manager, or the bank teller rather than the mortgage company executive.

    I am well-behaved partly because I do not want to lose my house and garden. I do not know how I would act if I were to lose that through institutional corruption or personal sociopathic greed. I do know that I would never hurt the receptionist.

    My advice to my fellow Yankees? When asked about it by anybody, do not admit to carrying drugs or money (even if perfectly legally). Treat cops and gangsters the same – show no fear, and show no disrespect. The former makes you an easy target, and the latter is a challenge.

  26. zmidponk:

    Well, to be honest, I could understand the cop thinking it slightly suspicious that someone has $20,000 in cash. However, in any free society, a cop having a slight suspicion that a person might, possibly be up to something a bit dodgy would not really be grounds for anything bar maybe the cop making a few further inquiries to try to ascertain whether his suspicion was accurate, especially if, as in this case, the person provided a perfectly reasonable, if a tad unusual, explanation for having that much cash.

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