Civil Liberties

Judges Stick Up for Asset Forfeiture Victim

When officers searched Jermaine Sanders' car, they found less than half an ounce of marijuana and seized $17,000 of his money.


Police in Mooresville, North Carolina, found a small amount of marijuana in a man's car and used it to justify seizing nearly $17,000 of his money. Thankfully, a state judge is raising hell over it.

In November, Jermaine Sanders was staying at a hotel in Mooresville when officers searched his car, finding what appeared to be less than half an ounce of marijuana and $16,761 in cash. The cops seized the cash and charged Sanders, who they learned had previously been convicted of felony drug charges in Connecticut, with misdemeanor drug possession.

Sanders' attorney, Ashley Cannon, submitted a motion seeking the return of her client's cash, arguing that he did not consent to the search, that the police did not provide a warrant, and that the money was not related to any criminal activity. Iredell County District Court Judge Deborah Brown agreed and ordered the city to return Sanders' money, but Mooresville officials flouted the order.

The day before Brown made her ruling, the Mooresville Police Department had sent a cashier's check for the same amount they'd taken from Sanders to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The feds had "adopted" the case, taking possession of Sanders' money.

Mooresville turned to the feds because North Carolina law requires convictions for most forfeitures and allocates the proceeds to public schools instead of the police. But police can bypass those rules through "equitable sharing," which allows federal law enforcement agencies to "adopt" forfeiture cases initiated by local cops and complete them under federal law. The feds then send a cut of the seized assets—as much as 80 percent—back to police departments. According to the Institute for Justice, police departments across North Carolina have reaped nearly $300 million from federal equitable sharing during the last two decades.

Even though Mooresville police are responsible for the only charge currently filed against Sanders, they told Cannon she would have to ask the Department of Homeland Security, which includes CBP, about getting her client's money back. So she took them back to court.

In February, Iredell County District Court Judge Christine Underwood rejected the city's explanation. She found the city in contempt of court and told Mooresville's lawyers she was ready to jail local officials if they refused to return Sanders' money. The city is appealing.

NEXT: Brickbat: The Thing That Wouldn't Leave

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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Let the city officials appeal from jail.

      1. JOB FOR USA Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than DS regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

  2. The day before Brown made her ruling, the Mooresville Police Department had sent a cashier’s check for the same amount they’d taken from Sanders to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The feds had “adopted” the case, taking possession of Sanders’ money.

    That’s the shit that lets you know they’re evil bastards and they’re just stealing this guy’s money and they know they’re stealing this guy’s money and they’re doing all they can to make sure he doesn’t get it back. These fuckers should be in jail and they damn sure shouldn’t be law enforcement.

    1. What’s great is that she doesn’t accept that as an excuse for them to not return his money. Money is fungible, after all.

    2. I do not understand how this entire practice is not money laundering. It seems like a textbook example of taking illogical moves in order to avoid legal requirements.

      1. I can’t believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We’re looking up “money laundering” in a textbook.

  3. Both of the above.

    As usual with Reason, I want the rest of the story about Sanders, and what was going on, but Goddamnit, you shouldn’t get to take someone’s stuff without a guilty criminal verdict. Not a verdict against just his stuff, either.

    This used to be understood by Americans. What the Hell happened here?

    1. Electing democrats is what happened.

      1. Ya, nothing to do with the GOP’s war on drugs…

        1. You mean like the legislation GOP Senator Biden wrote, that ended up filling the prisons with Black men?

          1. No. He means the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, sponsored by Thurman and Fish, both Republicans.

        2. You mean the war on drugs that Democrats run?

          Last I checked, democrat senate and democrat president. Could end this right now of they wanted to.

      2. Nah, the GOP is down with taking your stuff too, sans trial. This is a cultural problem, and it’s one we’re not going to be able to solve.

        1. Yup. This is some genuine bipartisan FYTW.

  4. IIRC,this judge was supposed to have jailed the City Council’s asses back in February if they didn’t comply and give Saunders back his money! What the Hell happened to stop that?

    1. Appeals.

      1. Which will drag on until everyone involved is dead, and nothing else will happen.

      2. Still, they should have announced that sooner, like by the day of the deadline for returning Mr. Saunders his money.

  5. “The city is appealing.”

    There appears to be a typo in the last sentence of the article. I think it ought to read “The city is appalling.” 🙂

    1. I had called the Huntersville newspaper about this back when it was happening and still got no answer. Newspapers really suck.

  6. Most likely the cops are projecting. They know from experience the only way to have a bag of cash in their cars is via theft, extortion, or some other illicit activities.

  7. independent mortgage advisor
    independent mortgage advisor Hey check this out helpful blog, Amazingly compiled!

  8. Scott, you might want to reword that headline; according to the article, the guy still doesn’t have his money, and the bad guys are still free.

    1. Or just insert the word “Halfassedly” after “Judges.”

  9. I don’t see any reason why the judge couldn’t civilly seize the assets of the city officials while the appeal is pending.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.