The Case Of Michael Annan
Michael Annan had $43,720 taken from him in a traffic stop by Georgia deputies. Read the details of his case.
The law states that authorities can confiscate your money without ever charging you with a crime, as long as they can prove it’s tied to illegal activity but sometimes it happens even when they can’t.
Jim Wells County in the southern tip of Texas, named for a 19th century political boss, has one of the most successful and aggressive highway interdiction programs in the state.
In the past four years, authorities have seized more than $1.5 million, primarily off of U.S. Highway 281 a prime smuggling route for drugs going north and money coming south.
“We’ve been working southbounders for the money and weapons that are going back to Mexico,” says Capt. Ray Escamilla of the Jim Wells County Sheriff’s Office. His office wall is covered with pictures not of dope busts, but of piles of confiscated cash. He recalls some of the big ones: “October 2001, $105,000. November 2003, $99,000. October 2004, $668,000.”
“We’ve helped the schools cops in school vehicles,” Escamilla says. “I think every year we’ve bought three to four vehicles, all of our equipment, guns, high-powered rifles, all bought with forfeiture funds.”
But has Jim Wells County become so reliant on seizing drug money that it’s shaking down innocent motorists?
And that’s what happened in the case of Javier Gonzalez it looked bad in court.
‘Did I Just Get Robbed?’
A Preponderance of Evidence
If The Police Take Your Property Can You Get It Back
Attorney Dave Stegall blogs about what happens with the police seize your property and what your rights on getting that property back are.
If The Police Take Your Property Can You Get It Back?
Often times when a police officer makes an arrest, the officer will also seize your personal property. Depending the facts of the arrest and the type of property seized by the police, reclaiming the property can be a long and frustrating process. This article briefly discusses the general authority for the police to seize property in the first instance and provides steps you can take to assist in reclaiming your property.
If the police seized your property during an arrest they are required to provide you with a receipt. The receipt will indicate which items the police have in their custody. Likewise, if the police seize property during a search warrant, they must fill out an itemization of the property they seized, which is called a search warrant return. The search warrant return must be filed with the clerk of courts office within 5 days from the date the police executed the search warrant. A copy of the return is available after the fact either from the clerks office or in the discovery if criminal charges are issued.
Why Did the Police Seize My Property?
To figure out how to get your property back, the first question that must be answered is why did the police take your property in the first place. In general, the police may lawfully seize property for four main reasons.
Officers With Search Warrants Almost Always Have To Knock Before They Enter Your House
Here’s another thing that you should know when it comes to search warrants: Even when the police have one, they are legally required to knock and announce themselves before they enter. However, there is one exception to this rule: In Richards v. Wisconsin, the Supreme Court decided that the police can forego the formalities of knocking if making themselves known “would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime.”
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What About If I Am Already Under Arrest And Detained At A Police Station
If you are under arrest for something that could eventually lead to a trial, the police can enter and search your home, without a warrant and without anyones consent, if they think there is reasonable grounds for suspecting they may find evidence about the offence you were arrested for or any other offence.
This power also applies to any property occupied or controlled by you or any premises you were in at the time of your arrest or immediately before it.
Texas Police Can Seize Money And Property With Little Transparency So The Texas Tribune Got The Data And Analyzed It
In January 2016, Houston police took $955 from a man they said was a gang member with a criminal history because they suspected he was selling painkillers found in his car during a traffic stop. When prosecutors discovered he had a valid prescription for the drugs, they dropped the possession charge.
But the mans money still went into the coffers of the police department and the local prosecutor.
A few months later near the U.S.-Mexico border, a Webb County sheriffs deputy pulled over a southbound car that Border Patrol agents had flagged for having hidden compartments. There was nothing in the compartments, but because deputies suspected it was tied to drug trafficking, they still seized the 2007 Nissan Altima. The driver wasnt charged with a crime.
The seizures highlight the controversial but complicated nature of a common policing practice called civil asset forfeiture, where law enforcement agencies can take and keep a persons cash and property without charging the person with a crime. Instead, the government sues the property itself in civil court where property owners have no right to a court-appointed lawyer leading to oddly-named lawsuits like The State of Texas v. one 2005 Ford Mustang.
The Tribune studied 560 forfeiture cases filed in 2016, resulting in the seizure of nearly $10 million and 100 vehicles . The study included six months of cases from Harris County, and all 2016 seizures in the other counties.
The Tribunes analysis also found:
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How Can We Reverse This Trend
Some states are taking aggressive stances on civil asset forfeiture and cash seizure. New Mexico has banned it. In that state, law enforcement only may seize property after there has been a criminal conviction. All forfeiture monies are placed in a general state fund and may not be deposited into police department coffers.
Still, there are areas in NM that are not following the law. Albuquerque city continues to seize cash and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.
It’s Also Possible For Them To Get Access To Your Dna Through Dna Testing Kit Companies
Think twice before sending your DNA in to get tested by a company like 23andMe or Ancestry. Though it’s extremely uncommon, DNA-testing companies like these make it clear on their websites that they will comply with government and law enforcement requests for user information and DNA samples. In 2018, a sample from an ancestry website even helped Sacramento authorities catch the infamous Golden State Killer.
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Police Officers Cannot Abuse Their Power To Arrest Individuals Without Cause
Arresting a person is a powerful tool for law enforcement. Arrests are made when a person is suspected of committing a crime. However, some officers misuse arrests for various reasons.
A police officer in Providence, KY, was found guilty in 2018 for wrongful arrest. The person arrested had attempted to file several complaints against the police officer.
The officer arrested a victim without probable cause. Because the officer did not have probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, the officer violated the persons Fourth Amendment rights.
However, false arrests can also violate a persons Fourteenth Amendment to the right of due process and the persons Eighth Amendment right not to be subject to cruel or unusual punishment.
How Can You Be Innocent And Still Be Deprived Of Your Property
Remember that many people who are pulled over by the police and have their property seized cannot afford a good attorney. There also is no constitutional right to an attorney in this type of legal problem. Many of the people that the ACLU has represented in civil asset forfeiture cases have been people of color with few assets.
Even if you can afford good counsel, in most states, the government only has to show a preponderance of the evidence to keep your property. Thats not much more than a flip of a coin.
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And Even If You Were Arrested There Are Things That You Can Say Before Being Read Your Rights That Are Admissible In Court
Most of the things you say before being read your Miranda rights are considered inadmissible in court. However, Michigan criminal lawyer and defense attorney Patrick Barone notes on MirandaWarning.org that there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, “if a statement is made that admits to crime was not made in response to a question,” then the police can use that admission against you in court.
In Harris County Law Enforcement Seized Cash And Property Nearly 18 Times Per Week
In February 2016, Houston police found more than $1.2 million hidden in a truck loaded onto a tractor-trailer they stopped on Interstate 10. When the driver claimed to have no knowledge of the cash, police seized the suspected drug money and let the driver go without charges.
Another major seizure stemmed from a west Houston drug bust and raked in more than $560,000 one of several high-dollar seizures that came at the end of long investigations and resulted in criminal convictions.
Those were among the 463 seizures in the first six months of 2016 that took in $8 million in cash and almost 70 vehicles in Harris County home to 4.7 million people the Tribunes investigation found.
Police also regularly seized significant amounts of cash from people while surveilling bus terminals in east Houston and stopping what they described in their reports as suspicious or nervous-looking Hispanic people. Cash amounts ranging from $12,000 to $300,000 were seized from 17 people who were searched after getting off buses. Police charged most of them with money laundering, but released two without charges after seizing their money.
Beavers, the Harris County prosecutor, said the officers who watch the bus stations are part of a special drug task force and have received extensive training on how to spot money couriers, known as mules, who transport money to drug cartels.
Ned didnt respond to requests for comment for this story.
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Lower Standard Of Proof
To seize property under civil forfeiture laws, the government doesnt have to prove that the owner was involved in illegal activity. It just has to demonstrate that the property was connected to a crime.
The fact that the burden of proof is so low for government prosecutors just provides such weak protections for property owners, said Grey Gardner, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization that opposes punitive drug laws. I think it alarms a lot of people on the right and the left.
When people know the government is effectively taking peoples property without sufficient due process, without criminal charges theyre disgusted by that, Gardner told Stateline.
If Youre Crossing A Border
Between 2015 and 2017, U.S. airports saw searches of electronic devices rise more than 70 percent. Thats because U.S. Customs and Borders Protection agents have wide latitude in searching electronic devices at any U.S. border . These searches dont require a warrant or even evidence that youve done anything illegal, and can even include demands to hand over your passcode. This latitude might not last forever, though the ACLU is currently pursuing a lawsuit demanding the government explain the policies around these searches, particularly as they apply to domestic passengers.
In all of the above situations, be aware that its always possible that police will deny you have these rights, or simply not be aware of the law surrounding electronic devices. After all, the law moves relatively slowly compared to tech, and not everyone can keep up. In these situations, its best to keep cool and to continue emphasizing what you believe to be your rights.
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Seizures Of Funds In A Bank Account
The government can seize money directly from a bank account. One way this happens is when there are large numbers of cash deposits that government investigators suspect are structured as a way to avoid deposits exceeding $10,000, since deposits greater than that amount must be reported to the federal government. But it can happen that legitimate businesses have regular large deposits of cash. In one instance, the Internal Revenue Service waited for large deposits to be placed into an owner’s bank account, and then forced the bank by legal means to surrender it to the agency by means of a secret warrant authorities took $135,000 from Michigan restaurant owners, named the Cheung family, who made cash deposits from their Chinese restaurant. In another instance, a businessman in New Jersey made repeated cash deposits to save for purchasing a house each payment was below the $10,000 threshold for reporting to the government, but there were 21 deposits over a period of four months, which caused government to suspect that criminal activity was involved as a result, the IRS seized $157,000 and the businessman was forced to hire an attorney to get his funds returned. Officials seized $35,000 from the bank account of a grocery store “without any warning or explanation” in 2013.
What Documents Should The Police Show Before Entering A Home They Are Raiding
The police do not need to show a warrant before entering a property if this could allow evidence to be destroyed or if they are executing an arrest warrant and the person might escape.
However, if they are conducting a search with a warrant, the police must show it to you as soon as practicable, usually after they have secured the property and gathered everyone in one room. You have a right to a copy.
You also check to see that:
- The warrant is for the correct address
- What it has been issued for whether it is to search for drugs, stolen property or to arrest someone.
If a person named in an arrest warrant no longer lives at your address, explaining this to officers should help to quickly end any search.
- When was it issued any entry and search must be within three months from the date of the warrants issue.
You also have a right to a Notice of Rights and Powers, setting out police powers and occupiers rights.
You are also entitled to see a police officers warrant card as a means of identification if he or she is not in uniform.
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What Steps Should You Take If Cash Has Been Seized During A Raid Under The Proceeds Of Crime Act
There will be a court hearing within 48 hours, because seized cash may not be retained for longer than this without an order of a Magistrate who is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for keeping it for the purposes of investigating its origin or use or if it relates to criminal charges.
You can ask the Magistrates Court to release the cash. However, the police are likely to ask the Magistrate to allow them to keep the money pending further investigation, for up to three months. They can then make further applications to retain the cash for up to a maximum of two years.
Legal aid is unlikely to be available for Proceeds of Crime Act hearings and both criminal and civil lawyers can advise you on your rights. Keep any receipts that can prove where the money has come from.
If your money has been taken as evidence then see above.
What Happens After An Item Is Seized
Generally, the police seize an item because it may be used as a piece of evidence against the defendant at trial. These items are usually cataloged and kept in a secure storage location, with a record of who examined it and when.
This helps create a chain of evidence .
However, after a criminal investigation, most items are returned to the person, unless they fall into the War on Drugs Asset Forfeiture laws.
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The Struggle To Get Money Back
In theory, anyone can fight to get their seized property back. But unlike in criminal cases, there is no right to a free, court-appointed attorney in civil forfeiture. For many people, its impossible to pay an attorney the several thousands of dollars it can cost to pursue their property. Often, a lawyers fees would exceed the value of the seized money.
Many people never try to get their money back. Some lack the language skills to wage a legal fight others just want to avoid tangling with law enforcement. And then theres the tight, 20-day, window to respond among the shortest in the country, according to a WBUR review of state statutes. It leaves little time for a letter to be rerouted from an incorrect address, or for the property owner to hire an attorney.
As a result of these hurdles, the majority of civil forfeiture cases are ruled in the district attorneys favor by default, meaning people took no action to get their money back. In Worcester County, 84% of forfeiture cases in fiscal 2019 were default judgments, according to data from the trial court.
Even when people do take action to get their money back, the district attorney may have other plans for it. One resident found that out the hard way.
Northbridge police and members of the Blackstone Valley Drug Task Force stormed into Laura Wojcechowiczs house on a September evening as she was getting ready for bed.
She said the police told her, Were not here for you.