Civil Asset Forfeiture

Anthony Smelley Will Get His Money Back


Anthony Smelley was the subject of my February feature in Reason about asset forfeiture abuse. In January of last year, Smelley was pulled over in Putnam County, Indiana for an unsafe lane change and an obscured license plate. After a drug dog alerted to Smelley's car, police seized $17,320 in cash Smelley had brought with him. According to court records, Smelley says he was en route from Michigan to St. Louis, where he planned to use the money to purchase a car for his aunt. Even though Smelley later produced a letter from a Detroit law firm confirming that the money was part of a settlement from a recent car accident, Putnam County moved forward to keep the money, on the absurd theory that Smelley could have used the money to purchase drugs at some point in the future.

To make matters worse, the county was represented not by an elected public official, but by Christopher Gambill, an attorney in private practice who handles several Indiana counties' forfeiture cases on a contingency basis, earning 25-33 percent of what he wins in court, a system stacked with twisted incentives.

I don't know that you could call it a victory, but last week, some 13 months after Putnam County took his money, Anthony Smelley learned he will finally get it back. Putnam County Circuit Court Special Judge David Polk ruled that the stop, detainment, and drug dog search of Smelley and his car were all legal. But Polk also determined that because the police found no drugs in Smelley's possession and because the county presented no other evidence of illegal activity, it is obligated to return Smelley's money.

Under Indiana law, Smelley will not be reimbursed for his time, interest on the money, court costs or attorney's fees.

This is obviously preferable to a decision allowing the county to keep Smelley's money. But it shows just what a rigged game the forfeiture racket is that it took 13 months, two judges, and a hell of a lot of hassle for Smelley to reach the same outcome he should have been granted the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car.

You can read Polk's decision here.

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  1. an attorney in private practice who handles several Indiana counties’ forfeiture cases on a contingency basis, earning 25-33 percent of what he wins in court, a system stacked with twisted incentives.

    Scum. I’m going to see if my county does this. If so, Questions will be Raised, I assure you.

  2. This is obviously preferable to a decision allowing the county to keep Smelley’s money. But it shows just what a rigged game the forfeiture racket is that it took 13 months, two judges, and a hell of a lot of hassle for Smelley to reach the same outcome he should have been granted the moment the police failed to find any contraband in his car.

    Makes fighting the State’s injustice out of pure principle an expensive undertaking, which is why the State can chisel away at liberty a piece at a time – few will be willing to fight back.

    But, hey, like “Chony” has said, that is what the “majority” wanted, right? Right? The State is “legitimate”, right?

    1. Yeah, gee, just the price of civilization! I’m sure Chony will sleep better knowing that the State “protects” him this way.

    2. If he doesn’t want to have his money stolen by cops, he’s free to move to another state.

      I forget who always spouts off that little bit of idiocy. MNG, maybe?

      1. That was Dan T’s line.

          1. Not Dave W., you grade-A nimrod. Dan T. Dave was Farces and HFCS.

            1. That’s why it’s funny, my faulty-pancreased nemesis.

              1. You’re still a grade-A nimrod.

                1. You are a callow slackwit.

                  1. You are a vituperating, corpulent cacafuego.

                    1. You are a logorrheic heathen.

                    2. I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

                    3. You’re a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and your butt smells and you like to kiss your own butt.

                    4. Both of you are ignorant, unmannerly swaines.

      2. Where’s the bitch been lately?

        1. MNG? He’s been around.

          1. Really? I cant see him. 🙂

  3. ok let me see. they kept his money for over a year. the lawyers charge 25-33% of that money to get it back, the court does not award costs to the winner. SOOO the state used his money for a year deprived him of the use of said funds, caused him to miss time from work ( =’s money lost) deprived his aunt of the car, which he now cant buy due to the fact he is 33% short. and all he gets is a F U here it is less attorney costs sorry bub. the Law needs to be changed, and the cops and state agencies and the judges need to be held accountable with loss of jobs and or jail time for shite like this

    1. the lawyers charge 25-33% of that money to get it back,

      The whole thing still sucks, but the attorney hired by the county only keeps 25-33% of the money if the county wins and gets to keep the money. In this case, the attorney got nothing, which is the other side of contingency fees.

      1. Yeah i understood that, and thats a whole different ball o wax. but you can bet a dollar to a doughnut his lawyer charged the same fees.

        1. The rules are sufficiently stacked against him that his attorney may well have wanted cash on the table rather than contingency.

    2. I wonder if there is some way that he can go after the lawyer that represented the county.

  4. It’s unfortunate that “innocent” people occasionally get caught in the grindstone, but the end result of eliminating the scourge of illicit drug use requires us to keep these rules in place.

    1. I LOL-ed, as they say.

      1. WTF? (as they say) That was supposed to be a response to ‘George’.

    2. I am a bit tired today so my sarcsasm meter is out to lunch, so i am just going to go with the idea that your comment was aimed at sarcasm, if not, i just feel for ya. and to anyone who really feels this way i challenge them to reseach the science and then still think the same!

      1. I just assumed that George was joking. No person who can spell his own name would seriously make this argument.

    3. It was unfortunate that George’s home, and automobile were seized without trial or due process but in order to stop the scourge of Co2 emission it is necessary.

    4. Someone should introduce you to Juanita.

    5. Okay, down below I thought he was an idiot and not a troll. Now I know he is a troll. Or a utilitarian. But really, same thing.

    6. In case you are not being sarcastic, I’d like to see your response if you were the one caught in the grindstone.

  5. The criminal courts may not grant him interest and court costs, but I’ll bet there’s some other lawyer out there willing to sue the shit out of the state if this guy wants to take it any further.

    Personally, I’d castrate the State’s lawyer on the basis that he might use his penis to rape somebody at some future point in time.

  6. Putnam County Circuit Court Special Judge David Polk ruled that the stop, detainment, and drug dog search of Smelley and his car were all legal.

    And that’s your problem, right there.

  7. Reading the opinion, my guess is that there’s a fair-to-middling chance that Smelley was planning on buying drugs. (The money was hidden all over the car, he withdrew it from his bank account in three transactions over a few weeks, and I can think of about 100 better ways to buy a car with money in a bank account than driving 17,000 in cash from Detroit to St. Louis.) Still, the government didn’t have anything close to a preponderance of the evidence on their side, and taking property just because it seems possible that you might be *planning* on committing a crime is total B.S.

    1. So drug sniffing dogs alerted on Smelley’s car. He made multiple withdrawals to avoid triggering federal reporting. And he hid the money like any drug courier would do.

      Yeah, I get how you libertards get “innocent” out of that.

      1. He would be innocent even if he was going to buy drugs as far as any of the regulars here are concerned.

      2. “Yeah, I get how you libertards get ‘innocent’ out of that.”

        So…. “guilty” means “we thought we may have caught somebody doing something wrong, but it turns out the facts weren’t like we originally thought and we don’t have any evidence that the person was doing the wrong we initially thought, so we’re going to substitute our ‘hunch’ for evidence and take his money anyway.”

        1. The police disrupted an obvious conspiracy to traffic in narcotics. This is a win even though they have to give the money back. Mr. Smelley will be on many people’s radar for some time to come.

          1. By definition, an “obvious conspiracy” would have provided grounds for the police and prosecutors to file charges. Since filing charges is what the police do, it is not plausible to assert that the police had grounds to file charges yet declined to do so.

            1. We all know that bad people get away with things every day because the system is stacked against a successful prosecution. Sometimes we just need to settle for disrupting the bad acts these people engage in.

              1. The first thing that should be done is firing that police officer who let an obvious drug runner get away with it! It is unfortunate, but police who bungle these types of forfeitures should be held accountable.

              2. the system is stacked against a successful prosecution

                Bad troll.

              3. Yeah. When most prosecutors only have 98% success rate we know the system is stacked against them.

      3. You can’t discount the possibility that the guy is a little crazy/paranoid.

        The bottom line is that the evidence for seizing this money was not there until it is a crime to carry large amounts of cash.

        1. In 5 to 15 years it almost certainly will be.

      4. George,

        Multiple withdrawals, and keeping the money hidden aren’t crimes you fucking Nazi.
        The only thing the man was guilty of was an unsafe lane change.
        In the USA it’s “innocent until PROVEN GUILTY”.

        Yea, you’re just what this country needs more of. Dumb ass, NAZI moralists.

        1. Property has no rights.

          1. Retards have no idea what they are talking about.

      5. Yeah, I get how you libertards get “innocent” out of that.

        Well, as far as I know, “thinking about” or “being capable of” buying drugs are not criminal offenses, and that is, at most, what he did in this case.

        So, other than the fact that, even if the cops were right, he committed no crime, what was your point?

    2. There’s also the issue that buying drugs shouldn’t be a crime. But that’s another battle.

      1. There would be enormous social consequences if drugs weren’t illegal. These laws are necessary to maintain the integrity of the social fabric.

        1. Why do our trolls suck lately?

          1. Is this a closed site? No opposing views allowed?

            1. You can post them, and we will tell you you are an idiot.

              You know, like how alcohol prohibition was necessary to maintain the social fabric. Oh wait, it ripped it instead.

              1. Do you want to make an arugment of some kind that legalized drugs won’t lead many people into addiction that destroys not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones as well?

                Or do you have some more names to call me?

                1. We really need better trolls. You just don’t rate, George. You, sir, are no Neil.

                2. Do you want to make an arugment of some kind that legalized drugs won’t lead many people into addiction that destroys not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones as well?

                  Addicts are going to get drugs whether they are legal or not. And assuming you know what will happen is quite arrogant. What if legalization led to more people addicted to weed, but lead to a net reduction in alcoholism? Would you be grandstanding about the “harm to loved ones” then?

                3. Sure. Drugs are already widely available and are most readily available to the sort of people who are most interested in doing them and most likely to become addicted to them. Legalizing them now would result in a relatively small number of new addicts as social pressure and the adverse effects of the drugs themselves would continue to discourage users (observe how cigarette use has been declining). Without pushers, use of really hard drugs like heroin would probably decline.

                  At the same time, legalization would solve numerous other problems. The harm to existing addicts would go down as purity/safety increases, legal side effects vanish, prices go down, and treatment options become available.

                  And I haven’t even mentioned what the illicit drug business is doing to countries in South America where nothing short of nuclear bombs can stop the cartels from continuing to make the drugs and bribe the officials (nothing that is, except legalization and regulation so that our drugs are made right here in the U.S. anyway). At the very least, we should all be screaming and clawing for marijuana legalization as the risk of addiction is only about 10% and yet it’s 50% of the cartels’ income.

                4. I don’t know of a single person who has been prevented from using illegal drugs by the law. On the other hand, I do know people, such as myself, who never required any law to make them stay away. Legal or illegal, the difference is going to be negligible.

                  The problem is that you actually seem to think that you’re not surrounded by people who use drugs of one kind or another. You are, and they’re not all walking Cheech & Chong parodies; they are your co-workers, they’re at your church, and they’re on your school board. Some people who you really respect smoke a joint once they get home at night. Do a little digging — you’ll find I’m right.

                5. Do you want to make an arugment of some kind that legalized drugs won’t lead many people into addiction that destroys not only their lives but the lives of their loved ones as well?

                  My best friend growing up, died a couple of years ago of a heroin overdose at 34 years old.

                  A kind, funny kid, he spent the majority of his adult life in prison and was hopelessly addicted to cocaine and then heroin.

                  Cocaine and heroin were illegal his entire life. Were those drugs big factors in his short and tragic life? Sure were. But their being illegal sure didn’t help him any.

            2. Idiotic views are allowed, but mockery of such views is also allowed.

          2. After realizing what a POS they elected, they’re off licking their wounds. Or random body parts.

            1. I didn’t vote for Barack Hussein Obama.

              1. Some of you are just figuring out the POS you elected 6 and 10 years ago.

                1. No doubt that W turned his back on the principles that lead many of us to vote for him.

                  1. Some of us realized Bush was a lying piece of shit before 2000.

              2. ….because he isn’t an American citizen.

                1. Damn maximum indent! @>8(

        2. Are you copying from a DEA script?

  8. Oh yeah, one more thing: George, I’m not in the mood today. DIAF.

  9. Something about Anthony stinks.

    1. I can’t believe it took this long for someone to make a joke about his name.

  10. Anybody want to bet that the county commissioners that approved this policy will continue to get re-elected?

  11. As I said in another thread…it’s just a matter of time before paper money is phased out and everyone will need a government bank account to survive. Very few people will complain.

  12. I agree with all the outrage, but raise an additional outrage. Isn’t it evident by now that judges are part and parcel of this scam of generating work for themselves? If this judge was worth his salt, the law should be declared unconstitutional, and all confiscated property returned in total with interest.
    The loss to the county would make them think twice about running their racket.

  13. Squirrel needs to fix this, the misresponse thing is awful. Or funny. You know, Mr Squirrel, this wouldnt happen with flat commenting.

  14. @George 1:59


    The dog alerted because the handler gave him the secret signal to alert, giving him free rein to violate the guy’s 4th Amendment rights.

    He made multiple withdrawals because you can only get so much money out of an ATM, or maybe he changed his mind on how much he was going to spend on the car.

    He hid the money because it’s not safe to drive around with a big pile of cash.

    Obviously guilty. Stick your head in a bucket of lye and jumo off a cliff, Statist scum.

    1. The good news is the Patriot Act was extended without stripping away any of the important tools that law enforcement needs to keep eyes and ears on people like Mr. Smelley.

      1. Jesus frog-stomping Christ! If that isn’t sarcasm, it HAS to be performance art.

      2. Wrong! Proper trolling protocol requires you to be indignant that the Patriot Act was watered down in the first place. You can’t piss people off with “good news”.

        1. We have to take pleasure in the little victories as we get them and not fixate on loses in the past.

          1. Good news! Please hate me! It just doesn’t work.

  15. Ooooh! Oooooh! Is there a new troll named George? Fantastic! I was growing so weary of the same-old tired bullshit arguments. Maybe we’ll actually have a well-reasoned, logical debate where he will….

    [**actually reads George’s posts*]

    Oh, wait, nevermind.

    Once again, Epi’s right. Why do all the trolls suck so bad lately?

    1. They’re all either real and sadly dumb, or fakes by people who aren’t half the artist that Neil was. It’s a sad state of affairs. George seems to be one of the latter.

      1. I’ll give George credit for this:

        the system is stacked against a successful prosecution.

        I haven’t laughed that hard in ages.

        1. I have to agree with George. The system IS a little stacked against successful prosecution of innocent people. Only a little stacked, but definitely stacked. More seriously, let’s see, we have roughly 2.5 million people behind bars in the this country with another 7 or 8 million on probation. No other country comes close, so, no, I would say that the odds are not all that much stacked against successful prosecution.

          Let’s see, is it that Americans are disproportionately criminally inclined or could it possibly be something else? It couldn’t be that we have criminalized all sorts of behaviours that any sane society would not? It seems to me fairly obvious that for there to be any resembling an actual crime there has to also be a victim of that crime? And, please, don’t say “society is the victim” or I shall puke.

          1. Juges let clearly guilty people walk free by excluding evidence that was obtained through honest errors and not actual malfeasance on the part of the police.

            1. They aren’t even errors. Cops are on the scene and they know who’s guilty. They need to have the power to get the people who are guilty. If that means they don’t get a warrant, then so be it.

          2. Society is The Victim.


            (and yes, I punched myself for typing a winky, smiley emoticon. So you vomit and I get a broken nose thus, we’re even)

            Also, as for any sane society…, we’re obviously waaaay beyond that.

            Almost beer-time. Although, this may be a bourbon day.

  16. No big city elitist can understand why bread and butter Americans want crime off the streets. They worry about abstract ideals while we’re left to deal with criminals on the streets and police that can’t even take drug money away from criminals.

  17. …honest errors and not actual malfeasance…

    *Citation Needed

      You all know where that was directed.

      1. I must admit that threaded comments are an abomination not far removed from homosexuals getting married.

        1. I just got phone-polled (huh?) by Ronnie Reagan’s kid about that…

        2. Is this some kind of new automated troll-bot? Can any human troll be this generic?

  18. I was going to yell at George, but the US is beating Finland 6-0 in the first period, so I think I’ll just go eat some chips instead.

  19. 1) George is obviously satirical and/or trolling you guys, and you are falling for it.

    2) I am falling for it too. George, the point is that the government shouldn’t be able to take your stuff just because you might be on your way to buy drugs.

    1. Check out to the dkos/freeper echo chambers some time; better to keep a healthy assortment of trolls around, real or otherwise.

  20. He can. This is why people build killdozers.

  21. He can. This is why people build killdozers.

  22. This is why people build Killdozers.

    1. Because of thieving cops, or trolls like George?

  23. Amazing Mr. Balko! Leaves you angrey and speachless. Per Coldplay “trying hard to speak and fighting with you weak hand, driven to distraction it’s all part of the plan.

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