Drug War

How Cops Got a License to Steal Your Money


This week a series of stories in The Washington Post described the threat that civil forfeiture and the war on drugs pose to innocent drivers carrying large amounts of cash. In my latest Forbes column, I highlight three features of forfeiture law and five Supreme Court decisions that have made it easy for cops to take money from motorists. Here is how the piece starts:

One afternoon in August 2012, Mandrel Stuart was driving with his girlfriend into Washington, D.C., when a Fairfax County cop pulled him over on Interstate 66, ostensibly because the windows of his SUV were too dark. Lacking the device necessary to check whether the tinting of the windows exceeded the legal limit, Officer Kevin Palizzi instead cited Stuart for having a video running within his line of sight. While Palizzi was filling out the summons, another officer arrived with a drug-detecting dog. Claiming the dog alerted to the left front bumper and wheel of Stuart's GMC Yukon, the cops searched the car and found $17,550 in cash, which they kept, assuming that it must be related to the illegal drug trade.

Stuart, who had planned to use that money to buy equipment and supplies for his barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Virginia, was astonished that a routine traffic stop could so easily turn into grand theft. But as Washington Post reporters Michael Sallah, Robert O'Harrow Jr., and Steven Rich explain in a revealing and troubling series of stories that ran this week, taking Stuart's hard-earned money was perfectly legal, thanks to civil forfeiture laws that turn cops into highway robbers.

Read the whole thing.


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  1. This is an abomination.

    Outright theft, by government officials. They don’t even attempt to hide their immorality any more.

    The end is nigh.

  2. Government hates cash. It can’t be tracked or used to track people. Government officials want you to keep your money in regulated banks, so they’re not going to do anything about policies that incentivize that behavior.

  3. I read a story on CNN the other day about the Philly DA’s office taking a family’s home away over a $40 heroin bust. The cops and attorneys say exactly what you’d expect to justify a program that has netted them more than $64 million in cash and property, but the thing that really turned my stomach was CNN’s own legal analyst’s credulousness and excusing a system that destroys people’s lives over $40 worth of refined poppy dust.

    CNN legal analyst and consumer attorney, Brian Kabateck, says the law is intended to protect the public. “It discourages crime and it takes the ill-gotten gains away from the bad people.”

    But not all people who have their property taken away are charged with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, the civil law allows authorities to seize property without the owner ever being convicted or even charged.

    Civil liberties attorneys with the Institute for Justice, who recently filed a class action lawsuit against Philadelphia authorities for abusing the law, say, “Civil forfeiture is something that is an assault upon fundamental notions of private property ownership and due process.”

    But Kabateck disagrees, “It’s a good law. It works. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sometimes have issues that need to be corrected. The system constantly has to change.”

    1. That is seriously fucked up. If CNN is covering this shit maybe it’s becoming more main stream. I hold my breathe for the ball lickers at Fox to cover this story. Fox is good at some things(showcasing hotties) but on running criticism on the military or popo it’s awful.

    2. Ill gotten gains from “bad people”. That is some real high end legal language there. Where did this clown get his degree? A crackerjack box?

    3. CNN legal analyst and consumer attorney Brian Kabateck likes laws that fuck (primarily poor) people for their non-violent personal behavior.

  4. “I paid taxes on that money,” Stuart told the Post. “I worked for that money. Why should I give them my money?” Although the financial difficulties that ensued from his encounter with Officer Palizzi forced him to close his restaurant, Stuart ultimately got his money back after challenging the forfeiture in court.

    Still lost the business. All because of some greedy statist shitheads on a power trip. And this encounter was started over the fucking window tint, of all things! Something the cop couldn’t even verify because he didn’t have the equipment to do it, so he tried to bust the lowly citizen on something else, equally as retarded. If they don’t get you one way, they’ll get you another.

    Too early to start drinking. Guess I’m gonna start smashing things!

    1. Too early to start drinking. Guess I’m gonna start smashing things!


      1. Kidding, kidding. I’ve got more self-control than that, but damn if I don’t feel like smashing things. It’d be nice to have a box of lamps or something to smash on demand.

    2. And this encounter was started over the fucking window tint,

      Now that the activities of “consultants” in helping cops maximize their asset forfeiture has come to light, I have to believe that every stop like this is done in order to set up asset forfeiture.

      Keep them pinned down until the drug dog gets there, and bang, everything they own is yours.

      The guy’s lucky, really, that they didn’t seize his car and leave him standing by the side of the road.

    3. Too early to start drinking.


  5. Even now, after years of this shit, I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that the government can and does take people’s money and property without ever charging them, let alone convicting them, of a crime. But then I realize that the government can do and does whatever it wants to and pretty much always has done.

  6. That’s the difference between the USA and Mexico. In Mexico, when the cops shake you down in a traffic stop, it’s at least nominally illegal.

    1. And, you don’t get saddled with a ticket after you pay off the cops.

      Better system, really, than the one we have.

      1. Better system, really, than the one we have.

        Fuck me.

        No it most certainly is not.

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