Utah Supreme Court sides with man who wants to recover $500K seized in traffic stop

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  • K Mchenry, IL
    Aug. 27, 2018 12:33 p.m.

    What was the 500K in cash doing in the car? Obvious up to no good.

  • RebelScum Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 27, 2018 10:24 a.m.

    Having worked in Utah law enforcement for many years I saw a lot of abuses in the civil forfeiture area. I do not support civil forfeitures unless there is a criminal conviction for the offense(s) that precipitated the seizure. Currently there are still incentives for law enforcement to take personal property. It may not be used to pay police salaries, but they can buy top of the line equipment, high tech gear, firearms, vehicles, pay confidential sources, and do many other things. Which are still incentives, especially for administrators looking for ways to cut the budget, or in this case, looking for ways to make a buck.

  • Justinstitches American Fork, UT
    Aug. 27, 2018 7:15 a.m.

    I have no problem with forfeiture of ill-gotten gains if the person has been convicted of a crime. The seized items should be held until that point. There have been many documented cases of abuse of the forfeiture laws. I would rather let a criminal keeping his money, cars, etc., than have innocent people lose legitimately owned things.

    Having said that, when a person like this man, has a suspiciously large amount of money in their vehicle or home they should be able to provide a reasonable explanation for it. If the person does not, that should be used as a part of the evidence (not the sole evidence) against that individual. But if that person isn’t convicted of a crime then the money should be returned. To do otherwise strikes me as unconstitutional.

  • Nan BW ELder, CO
    Aug. 27, 2018 6:39 a.m.

    Years ago, about the time of the century change, there was an effort to resolve this issue by petition to put a better worded law up for vote. I lived in SLC at the time, and gathered petition signatures. As I recall, the measure won and this issue was supposed to have been resolved. Obviously it wasn't. Whether the man had a large sum of cash or not, it should not have been seized without due process. Suspecting drug dealing, or other illegal activity, is not enough to take a citizen's money, and then require legal action to have it returned. This is simply overstepping the authority of officers.

  • riptide FR, 00
    Aug. 27, 2018 1:50 a.m.

    @search diligently - This case is in the spotlight because the amount is large, but smaller amounts, cars, and various other personal property are seized the same way. As shown by @rvalens2 comment, even having a good explanation (and a much smaller amount of money) does not always prevent such abuse, nor make it easier to recover property that is taken inappropriately. Besides, there is no law against carrying large sums of money and no legal requirement to explain to police where your money came from or what you plan to do with it.

    @akman - While k9s are a great asset, research has shown that their alerts are often false positives, so an alert doesn't always mean drugs were present. None were found in this case. If a k9 alert isn't reliable enough evidence to convict (or even to charge the person with a crime) it shouldn't be enough to seize and keep their personal property.

    Taking and keeping personal property without due process is nothing short of legalized theft.

  • coltakashi Richland, WA
    Aug. 26, 2018 11:38 p.m.

    Confiscation of private property by police without a trial in which a jury finds the owner guilty of a crime AND that the money or property was instrumental in the crime or the fruit of the crime, is a violation of the constitutional rights of due process of law, and of just compensation. It is theft by conspirators with guns and a violation of 42 USC 1983.

  • OlderGreg USA, CA
    Aug. 26, 2018 11:13 p.m.

    At what amount is a person required to explain cash on hand?

    If the cash amount is "obviously" from some sort of evil deed, then the claimed desirable result of defunding can be accomplished by taking it as *evidence*. That would take it out of circulation painfully for any criminal purposes -- even if there was a truly speedy trial.

    Ever do any animal training? How many sniffers do you think are rewarded for no-hit results? What do you think an animal will do to please his master when his master is not showing pleasure -- is looking for a hit? ( Even a green defense attorney would use that)

    Even supposing an exceptional dog not hitting on anything else -- currency is a very good bet for a Hail Mary just cause ploy. Just normal circulation with medical services, medicine cabinets, prescription, legal MJ exposure (even second hand), many over-the-counter substances, normal household and kitchen substances, can all give positive lab readings. Again, defense attorney fodder.

    If it's a good bust, then follow through and make it a good bust, like the Constitution says.

  • search diligently Lehi, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 9:03 p.m.

    I don't have so much of a problem that huge sums of money are seized but two things need to happen:
    1. The person w the cash needs to explain where it came from and
    2. That claim investigated and if still in doubt
    3. The person sb charged with a crime or else the money returned
    4. All these things sb handled very expeditiously. In fact a 10/30/90 day limit of some sort sb imposed that says the money must be returned if there is no charge within that time limit.

  • Akman Santaquin, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 3:40 p.m.

    The car was stopped for a traffic violation. A k-9 hits on the vehicle for drugs. The drugs are gone because they were sold and there was now $500,000.00 cash with no logical explanation concerning the k-9 evidence odor in the car and currency.

    If there were drugs and the money in the car. That would be very odd.

    Drug cartels don’t give receipts because that would be a lousy defense. This sounds like a great siesure based on the totality of the stop.

  • Akman Santaquin, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 3:13 p.m.

    A thief can not keep ill gotten gains. A drug runner has no right to keep his drugs.

    The $500,000 forfeiture is by civil standard not criminal standard beleaved to be ill gotten gain from supplying drugs to our kids.

    This process is great.
    1. Take the ill gotten cash
    2. Dont spend a dime for housing and feeding him in jail and add to overcrowding.

    The cops did their duty. Straw man arguments aside this is a guy with an almost unheard of amount of money in his car. No apparent paper trail to explain it.

    Nothing changes behavior like a hard pinch in the wallet. Alleged drug traffickers included.

  • Utah Ex-Pat Springfield, MO
    Aug. 26, 2018 2:46 p.m.

    --> hbeckett - Colfax, CA I have no issues from my bank withdrawing sums of money up to the amount of my balance. Not sure what the issues is with yours unless you have less than the aforementioned $100 in your bank account.

  • hbeckett Colfax, CA
    Aug. 26, 2018 1:15 p.m.

    and just where did the 500K in cash come from that would be a serious question to ask as getting any cash what were the denomations especially this amount from a financial institution in and of itself is virtually impossible just try to get $100 in cash from yourbank account. because I have tried

  • OlderGreg USA, CA
    Aug. 26, 2018 11:02 a.m.

    Change the law? Nope! Follow the law instead -- the US Constitution pretty much covers it.

    Any government attorney, and LEO that participates in in "civil forfeiture" is violating their Oath of Office.

    Likewise, I wonder about any court that apparently thinks a hearing on one event could somehow justify ignoring the Constitutions plain language on the matter.

  • Thomas Jefferson Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 9:28 a.m.

    This is just wrong, unconstitutional, and needs to stop.

  • BI Orem, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 8:08 a.m.

    The problem of this law is not around the "taking" action. It is around the "suspecting" reasoning/thinking, which is to justify the action. How to justify the action, without all kinds of discrimination? Or, with reasoning and ethics (brain and conscience)? :)

  • BYGardner SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 7:44 a.m.

    The 5th Amendment states: "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." I've never understood how asset forfeiture laws are constitutional.

  • Thomas Thompson Salt Lake City, UT
    Aug. 26, 2018 7:39 a.m.

    "Not so, said Jared Bennett, first assistant U.S. attorney for Utah. Forfeiture is the government's legal avenue to defund crime, Bennett said in a statement."

    The Utah Supreme Court may believe it has the authority to order the return of the money, but it has no control whatsoever over the funds -- only the feds have that. Typically, what they do in these cases, is (1) seize the cash; (2) call out the dog sniffers, who will (3) bark as an alert that the money is contaminated with drug residue. Once that happens, the individual whose money has been taken has to bring an action in federal court to get it back; if no action is timely filed, that is the end of the matter and the money will never be returned. if you do file a timely action, you may get the money back, someday, but the legal process for doing so can take up to two years -- and meanwhile the government gets an interest free loan.

    In short, these forfeiture actions by the federal government are among the worst abuses perpetrated by that government. When they seize and keep your money, the concept of what is called "due process of law" flies right out the window.

  • rvalens2 Burley, ID
    Aug. 26, 2018 12:41 a.m.

    A friend of mine who was on his way to Boise for a home and garden show was stopped by a police officer because he had a taillight out.

    During the course of the stop, the officer asked if he could search the vehicle (a large cargo truck). The truck was empty except for the driver's clothes and $15,000 in cash he was carrying in a cash box. When asked why he was carrying such a large amount of cash. He told the officer that it was to purchase trees at the home and garden show.

    The officer suspecting drugs were involved called for a police search dog. While the dog was unable to find any drugs in the truck or on my friend, the dog did get a "hit" on the money, which consisted of mostly 20 dollar bills. That was all it took for the officer to declare he was confiscating the money as drug money.

    When my friend protested, the officer told him to argue it out in the court. My friend was never convicted of a crime but to this day his money has never been returned.

    Confiscation should never happen before a conviction has taken place. It is unjust and unamerican to take anyone's property without a court order or conviction.

  • riptide FR, 00
    Aug. 25, 2018 9:05 p.m.

    Yes, these immoral laws that allow police to seize private property with no conviction (and even no evidence of wrongdoing) absolutely need to be changed.

  • Impartial7 DRAPER, UT
    Aug. 25, 2018 8:52 p.m.

    Cops, lawyers and judges are supposed to be the epitome of honesty. When they are not, they should be stripped of their authority for life.

  • DN Subscriber Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Aug. 25, 2018 8:52 p.m.

    The "asset forfeiture" scam is a positively obscene twisting of the entire judicial process.

    It provides a huge incentive for law enforcement agencies (or individual unethical cops) to seize money or property without cause. They know the owner will have to pay a ton of legal fees to fight to recover their property. That is after either no criminal charges are filed against the owner or the are acquitted.

    "Defunding drug crime" is an admirable goal, but if you cannot get a conviction that the owner was committing drug crimes then the only ethical and appropriate action is to return their property. Without them waiting for years or having to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight the feds.

    This is an area where when bogus charges are filed, the owner's legal fees should be paid out of the funds of the cop shop making the arrest and charges.

    Repeal asset forfeiture entirely! Prosecute drug dealer and seize assets if you get a conviction, not just confiscating it from people with no proof of criminal activity.

    The court got this one right, but did not go far enough.

  • water rocket Magna, UT
    Aug. 25, 2018 8:43 p.m.

    Unless there is a conviction, I see absolutely no moral grounds to justify this behavior. Sure, they want to "defund crime."

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    Aug. 25, 2018 7:57 p.m.

    These takings by police are wrong. The law needs to change.

  • Chessermesser West Valley City, UT
    Aug. 25, 2018 6:10 p.m.

    Yeah, change the law.