Asset Forfeiture

This Man Was Found Innocent, But the Cops Kept His $30,000 Anyway

Civil asset forfeiture strikes again.

|

Cop car
Dreamstime

Robert Pardee's vehicle was stopped by an Iowa state trooper over a busted taillight. After a search turned up trace amounts of marijuana, Pardee was charged with possession. A criminal court eventually found him innocent of any wrongdoing. So why do the police get to keep the $30,100 they confiscated from him?

The answer is civil forfeiture, of course. Even though a criminal court acquitted Pardee, a civil court ruled—under a much lower burden of proof—that it was more likely than not he had acquired the cash through illegal means.

The Institute for Justice's Nick Sibilla wrote about the case for Forbes:

Iowa State troopers can keep more than $30,000 in cash taken during a traffic stop, even though the owner was found not guilty, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled last week.

In June 2012, Robert Pardee was riding in a car through Powesheik County, Iowa on I-80, when an Iowa State trooper pulled the driver over for a non-working taillight and tailgating. During the stop, state troopers found "a small amount of marijuana" and $33,100 in cash. Pardee was arrested and charged with possessing cannabis. In Iowa, first-time offenders can face up to six months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.

One year later, a district court found him not guilty. As the criminal case proceeded against Pardee, the state also filed a civil forfeiture case against his seized cash. Despite his acquittal, first the district court and then the Iowa Court of Appeals ordered Pardee to forfeit his cash to the state.

The text of the court's decision includes additional details about the search of Pardee's vehicle, which was partly based on the officer's judgment that Pardee's actions were "inconsistent with the motoring public." But the search isn't really the issue: After all, Pardee was found innocent of the crime that stemmed from it.

But even though the government lost in criminal court, it won in civil court. And so a legally-innocent man's $30,000 is forfeit. Like most states, Iowa has laws on the books that allow cops to keep the money they confiscate during the course of investigations—creating perverse incentives for law enforcement to grab as much cash as possible, secure in the knowledge that it's very tough for citizens to win back their property.

More from Reason on asset forfeiture here.

NEXT: Clinton Ducks Reporters, Eleanor Holmes-Norton Fights for Sledding, Netflix Turns on Net Neutrality: P.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The seizure is absurd, of course, but as I say: never commit more than one crime at the same time. This especially applies to vehicles: if you’re driving with drugs or lots of cash, scrupulously observe all traffic laws.

    1. …scrupulously observe all traffic laws.

      RED FLAG

      1. Ha, my “don’t draw attention to myself” driving style is to go a few miles above the speed limit, but just a few, use my signals most of the time, but not all, and come to just barely a full stop at stopsigns. And if the cop can see me, to be singing along to music and fiddling with the stereo.

        Basically, not too “perfect”.

        1. I don’t even try. I just stopped drinking and driving. Now they bag me for 85 in a 65 every couple years. Good enough….

        2. I don’t even try. I just stopped drinking and driving. Now they bag me for 85 in a 65 every couple years. Good enough….

          1. It’s comforting to know that – despite the recent updates – spastically double clicking still results in a dbl post.

            HyR – I can’t quit you….

        3. True, I have heard of them pulling people over for driving too perfectly.

  2. a legally-innocent man

    There is no such thing as innocence in our justice system. Guilty or not [proven] guilty.

    What about OJ Simpson, who had to pay damages for wrongful death of the people he was found innocent not guilty of murdering?

    1. The law recognizes a difference between civil and criminal liability. So? The State, however, shouldn’t be allowed to use a lower standard available in civil actions to get/keep your property after losing a criminal proceeding.

      A couple other major differences: (1) the seizure is done by the State before any kind of adjudication; and (2) many asset seizure laws switch the burden after the seizure onto the individual to prove he didn’t get the money/property via illegal means. Especially with cash, that’s nearly an impossible burden.

    2. I don’t think OJ is the guy you’re going to want to bring up when discussing presumed innocence.

      1. That was the point.

  3. Perverse incentives? It’s not like they’re getting to pocket it themselves. They just get to buy espresso machines and maybe a new paint job for that MRAP. To better serve justice.

  4. If you ever needed more proof that there is no rule of law or “justice” system, asset forfeiture sure does the trick. It’s blatant, flat out, no-holds-barred robbery. At fucking gunpoint no less. And it’s all 100% “legal”. Meanwhile, smoking a plant is illegal. Or having sex in exchange for money. Or gambling in many places.

    Government and law are lies perpetrated by those in power on those not in power as a means to legitimize their power to the masses in the hope of the masses not hanging them from lampposts. And it works. Extremely fucking well.

    1. You are so wrong. So, so wrong. Loretta Lynch (I love the last name) assures everyone that satisfactory protections for asset forfeiture are in place and the Senate agreed.

      What more could you want? Huh?

      *Notably missing from the article is Robert Pardee’s explanation of where the money came from. I mean, the man can prove his innocence, right?

      Thats what I thought. It has to be drug money then. He deserved it.

  5. Land of the free and home of the brave?

    The lies we tell ourselves.

  6. Everybody say it with me: HOME OF THE FREE.

  7. the best part of the decision is its recapping of the facts of the case. the Iowa state police openly admit that they hang out on I-80 near the eastern and western borders and target cars from “drug source states”, which presumably means any state but Nebraska. so if you’re driving thru Iowa with out-of-state plates you’re assumed to be a criminal as a matter of policy, literally:

    “Occupants of such vehicles are automatically suspected of illicit drug or other
    criminal activity, and the interdiction investigation begins even before the vehicle is pulled over.”

    that they may eventually find some pretext for pulling you over (in this case, it was partly because it was “suspicious” the driver had his hands at 10 & 2) doesn’t mean it’s not a conspiracy to deprive out-of-staters of their civil rights.

  8. I wish there were more details on the “small amount of marijuana”. Was it tested? Could it have been literally any other kind of dried plant material? Was the defendant himself tested for THC?

    1. He was found not guilty, so I’m guessing it was lint.

      1. Have you ever smoked lint? The high is amazing!

  9. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8012 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here… ……

    http://www.wixjob.com

  10. I have not mulled this in any detail, but I’ll still blurt the first thought I had reading this:

    The state should not be involved with the civil courts except as defendants.

  11. Criminal remedies and civil remdies are independent.

    For example, persons accused of fraud may be acquitted due to the state’s failure to meet the burden of proof, but that does not estop the victims of the fraud from suing the accused, nor having a judgment entered in their favor.

    the same principle applies here. The abuses of civil forfeiture listed so far are procedural- forfeiture per se is not abuse.

  12. Criminal remedies and civil remdies are independent.

    For example, persons accused of fraud may be acquitted due to the state’s failure to meet the burden of proof, but that does not estop the victims of the fraud from suing the accused, nor having a judgment entered in their favor.

    the same principle applies here. The abuses of civil forfeiture listed so far are procedural- forfeiture per se is not abuse.

    1. You are saying that forfeiture, in which the government confiscates and pockets your assets without conviction or civil judgment against you, is analogous to the restitution due a victim?

  13. And people really wonder why 1.) Law abiding citizens despise the police 2.) People are killing them at break neck speed. This article is just a minor bit to showcase the anger of people.

  14. I am ‘fine’ with the evidentiary standard difference between civil and criminal court. However, civil forfeiture cases are different than 99.99999% of civil cases in that you normally have to prove an injury. Furthermore, that injury normally isn’t compensated by the plaintiff saying ‘well I grabbed a shitload of cash from defendant and want to keep it.’ That is a quasi criminal proceeding. If the government wants to sue in a civil court they should have to do it like the rest of us. That won’t change because the awards would be right around $1 when the State had to show harm.

    1. If the government wants to sue in a civil court they should have to do it like the rest of us.

      And then it would only be valid in cases of defrauding the government or destroying government property. “You sold some drugs” doesn’t make the money in your pocket belong to the government.

  15. Iowa cops have fucked with me one too many times…always they violate my constitutional rights and belittle me like I’m a child that doesn’t know right from wrong. So here’s the deal shit head Iowa state patrol – I MAY be carrying a .45 automatic the next time you pull me over for some bullshit excuse. I MIGHT take said .45 and spread your brains 20 feet across I-35 the next time you try to violate my civil rights and come up with some horse shit to either question and detain me or otherwise fuck with someone who was completely minding their own business and not causing any harm to anyone in the state of Iowa. Just so you know…I’m out there. Tell your daughter you love her, because the next time you fuck with someone and violate their civil rights (and you know you will, you always do) I just might have 230 grains of you’ll never see your family again outside of a wooden box waiting for you. Test me.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.