Judge Overturns $1 Million Seizure

Finally, a legal blow to our blatantly unconstitutional asset forfeiture laws. A federal judge has ordered the Nebraska State Police to return $1 million they seized from a couple on the grounds that it was drug-related, without ever charging, much less convicting them, of any crime.

Nebraska state troopers pulled over a man and his wife for speeding, and obtained consent from the couple to search their car. After they found bundles of cash in the trunk, they arrested the couple for suspected drug activity – even though they did not find any drugs or drug paraphernalia. Once at the police station, they hid the money and had a drug-sniffing dog correctly identify the location of the money.

On this basis alone, they sought to retain possession of the funds, using civil forfeiture laws. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement officers to seize assets they believe are connected to drug activity, regardless of whether they have any basis for charges or arrest against the person possessing the money. As part of the War on Drugs, it is commonplace for officers around the country to seize the funds of subjects pulled over on the highway, solely because they are carrying large amounts of cash.

Over 90% of all money in this country has traces of cocaine on it, so the fact that a drug dog “alerts” shouldn’t even be used to establish probable cause for further investigation, much less charges or convictions. Don’t be surprised if this ruling is appealed because the cops have a good racket going here and they want to keep as much of it as they can.

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  • Does money used to buy drugs typically get drugs on it in the process? I’m betting there’s no trace of sushi on that money I spent at the grocery store last night. I’d think this would be a coincidence, if true.

  • keithb

    I bet they don’t appeal. Better to lose a few isolated cases than have a precedent established by a circuit or supreme court.

  • Never mind the fact that, time and again, “drug sniffing” dogs have been shown to respond to the handler just as often as to any presumed drugs. If the handler knew where the money had been hidden, he very likely led the dog to it instead of the other way around.

  • whheydt

    Re; Kiethb @ #2:

    That was my logic with regard to the Prop. 8 case. The proponents of Prop. 8 appealed…and look where it got them.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Years ago the police raided a drug dealer’s house in Adelaide (South Australia) and found $30,000 in a cupboard. The arresting officers kept it for themselves and the drug dealer sued them for theft. In his summing up the judge noted that the drug dealer did not have a regular job so there was no chance he could have had $30,000 and therefore the police were not guilty.

  • keithb

    But this case is about money, not ideology.

  • Cathy W

    On top of nearly all paper money having traces of cocaine on it (especially larger bills, I think) – I know at least one test of drug-sniffing dogs has found that they’ll react to their handlers, meaning that if the handler believes there should be something to find in a given location the dog tends to alert there. (Two test runs – in one run they flagged the target locations and the dogs were nearly 100% accurate; in another run they put the flags up in places other than where the targets were and the accuracy was terrible, both false positives and missed target packages.)

  • freehand

    From http://www.fear.org:


    The Spring 2007 edition of Justice Policy Journal features a 31 page treatise, Civil Asset Forfeiture: Why Law Enforcement Has Changed its Motto from “To Serve and Protect” to “Show Me the Money,” in which Jared Shoemaker examines the negative impact on law enforcement goals and practices when police agencies aggressively pursue civil asset forfeitures as a means of supplementing their budgets, as well as how police agencies’ addiction to forfeiture revenue leads to disregard for individual due process rights, sometimes with tragic and life-altering consequences for innocent individuals.


    The perversion of law enforcement priorities was also the subject of an empirical study published thirteen years ago. Sociologists Mitchell Miller (University of Tennessee) and Lance H. Selva (Middle Tennessee State University) received the 1994 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Award for their undercover study and critical analysis of asset forfeiture’s impact on police procedure. Based on twelve months of covert observation from within narcotics enforcement agencies, Drug Enforcement’s Double-Edged Sword: An Assessment of Asset Forfeiture Programs described forfeiture as a “dysfunctional policy” that forces law enforcement agencies to subordinate justice to profit.


    This is part of the corruption and corporatization of the USA. When cops see citizens as sources of revenue, they become mere thugs and thieves, and are comfortable with enforcing corporate directives, whether they have become law yet or not.

  • exdrone

    What? Didn’t the state troopers enter into evidence their randomized double-blind study of the dog successfully alerting to drug-related money for a statistically significant number of trials and controlled by the use of non-drug-related money?.

  • kyoseki

    Ace of Sevens

    Does money used to buy drugs typically get drugs on it in the process? I’m betting there’s no trace of sushi on that money I spent at the grocery store last night. I’d think this would be a coincidence, if true.

    People don’t tend to snort sushi through $100 bills.

    … believe me, I’ve tried.

  • slc1

    The rational behind these laws was to prevent drug dealers from using the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to defend themselves in court. This is not entirely without merit; what’s happened is that they have been poorly drawn up with all manner of loopholes. They should be tightened up so that if there is no indictment withing a certain time period (say 72 hours), then the money and property should be returned forthwith to the accused. No ifs, and, buts or excuses.

  • anne mariehovgaard

    Gregory in Seattle @ #3, Cathy W @ #7:

    The dogs are good at their job – it’s just that, contrary to what their handlers believe, their job is not “find drugs”. From the dogs’ point of view, their job is the same as any well-trained dog’s job: please Master. So of course they “signal” when Master thinks they should.

  • freemage

    slc1: The problem there is that it still unfairly denies someone of their own funds for their constitutional right to counsel without having already proven that they’re guilty. At most, attorneys for the defense might be required to put any payment above the cost of a public defender in an escrow account that could be seized AFTER a guilty verdict. (So, if a defense attorney gets an acquittal for his client, he gets paid full; if he gets a guilty verdict, he gets the same payment he would’ve gotten while working with the public defender’s office.)

  • Infophile

    @11 and 13: All of this is really a perversion of justice in any case: Why should justice depend in the slightest on how much you can afford to pay for a defense attorney? (I know why it does, but it shouldn’t.) Asset forfeiture is like treating a bloody nose with leeches (lower blood pressure means it’ll stop faster, right?) – You’re causing a lot of pain in search of a woefully imperfect solution. What really needs to be done is to disallow private defense attorneys, and at the same time mandate that public defense attorneys get at least as much time and money per case as prosecutors. Of course, getting there will be nearly impossible – the people in power benefit heavily from a system where the wealthy can buy justice.