Liberty Commentary

Asset Seizure and Forfeiture – The State’s (Often Wrong) Rationale for Seizing Currency During a Traffic Stop

by Eapen Thampy, Agitator / Americans for Forfeiture Reform

Charles B. Frye, Attorney at Law in Houston, Texas, has written an excellent discussion on the government’s fallacious rationales for seizing cash during traffic stops at the Americans for Forfeiture Reform blog. I excerpt this portion and encourage you to read and share the rest:

What are the risks of transporting large sums of cash when you’re traveling?  Obviously, you could get robbed or get involved in an accident and lose the money.  Your car could catch on fire while you’re buying gas and your currency could go up in smoke.  A number of bad things could happen if you carry a large amount of cash on you when you travel.  But, one risk that many folks never consider is that a law enforcement officer could decide to seize your cash,even if you are not committing a crime and the officer cannot show any reason to believe that you have committed a crime.

If you’ve never had a law enforcement officer stop you for a traffic violation and then ask for your “consent” to search your vehicle, you probably find it difficult to believe that you or any other “law abiding citizen” could become embroiled in a criminal case or a forfeiture lawsuitjust because you happen to be carrying a large amount of currency.  But, it can, and does, happen.

One Texas Court of Appeals case, Deschenes v. State, 253 S.W.3d 374 (Tex.App.?Amarillo 2008, pet. ref.), catalogued the various ways that the State tries to justify a seizure and later forfeiture of a large amount of currency discovered after a traffic stop.  Justice Pirtle wrote in the majority opinion in Deschenes listing twenty two arguments the State advanced to justify the seizure:

“Here, the evidence tending to establish a connection between the money and some unnamed criminal activity amounts to mere conjecture. In support of a nexus between Appellant’s $17,620 and some unidentified “criminal activity,” the State points to profiling characteristics and a positive alert by a narcotics dog: (1) Appellant opened the passenger door to speak to the officer, handed him his wallet when asked for his license, and exited on the passenger side at the officer’s request; (2) car had energy drinks and fast food wrappers on the floorboard giving it a “lived?in” look; (3) he could not give his uncle’s exact address in San Diego; (4) he was traveling east to west on Interstate 40;[9] (5) he was nervous throughout the encounter; (6) he stared at his vehicle rather than maintaining eye contact when answering one of Esqueda’s questions; (7) he denied carrying a large sum of cash; (8) he was in possession of scales; (9) he avoided showing Esqueda [the investigating officer] the money; (10) the money was in a plastic bag; (11) it was a large amount of money; (12) the money was divided into bundles and wrapped with rubber bands; (13) he had an empty suitcase; (14) he denied having any drugs in his vehicle; (15) he stated he was going to Las Vegas; (16) he failed to produce “documentation” for the money; (17) a narcotics dog alerted to the money and the large empty suitcase; (18) an odor of narcotics on the empty suitcase; (19) the close proximity of the cash to the empty suitcase that presumably contained narcotics at one time; (20) an odor of narcotics on the cash; (21) the money was enough to purchase a felony amount of narcotics; (22) money from drug trafficking travels east to west.”