US Government Gives $11,000 Back To College Student Three Years After The DEA Took It From Him

from the ABORT,-FAIL dept

Another high-profile asset forfeiture battle has resulted in the government relinquishing its claim on seized cash and returning it to its owner.

In February 2014, DEA agents took $11,000 from Charles Clarke at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The DEA claimed Clarke’s luggage “smelled” like marijuana. It may have been right (Clarke was a recreational marijuana smoker), but it didn’t even bother to get a second opinion from a drug dog. Nor did it find any drugs or paraphernalia when it searched Clarke and his baggage.

It did, however, declare the $11,000 in college funds Clarke had saved over five years to be drug money. So, it took the cash from him and sent him on his way.

Normally, the burden of proof falls on the person whose property has been taken. That’s how civil asset forfeiture works. The government files a claim against the seized property, cutting the original owner of the property out of the loop as much as possible. Fortunately, the judge presiding over the forfeiture dispute shifted the burden back on law enforcement after finding Clarke to be a credible complainant.

“Frankly, the fella sounds like he’s telling the truth,” U.S. District Court Judge William O. Bertelsman said in a hearing over how much information the U.S. government should be required to turn over to Clarke’s lawyers. “He’s not changed his story once in all the depositions and testimony that he’s given even under the threat of perjury.”

Bertelsman also ordered the government to show proof that the seized money was the result of criminal activity. This was obviously going to be a problem for the government, considering all it had to work with was some luggage that carried a hint of marijuana odor. That, and Clarke’s cash, which it was in no hurry to give up, especially since it had to split the take thirteen ways.

While no further details have been released, it’s probably safe to assume the government never came up with the proof Bertelsman was looking for. The Institute for Justice — which represented Clarke in this case — is reporting that the government is returning the seized cash to the college student.

“The United States government has agreed to give Charles Clarke back every penny of the $11,000 it seized from him at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in February 2014, plus interest. Charles is very pleased that he will get his life savings back and that the whole ordeal is now behind him.”

All it would take to combat many questionable seizures would be a shift in the burden of proof. The process makes it almost impossible for those whose property has been seized to mount a successful attempt to reclaim it. The filing of cases as “Gov’t v. Property” allows the seizing agency to run unopposed (as it were), since the seized property can’t speak for itself and the property owner is tied up in bureaucratic paperwork with strict time limits that is wholly reliant on the seizing agency properly notifying seizure victims of the whereabouts of their cash, etc.

If the government can’t come up with criminal charges, it very likely cannot come up with proof the money is tied to illegal activity. But too few courts are willing to shift the burden of proof, leaving the government to indulge in its perverted incentives.

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Comments on “US Government Gives $11,000 Back To College Student Three Years After The DEA Took It From Him”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Every time they have to return stolen Money

Each time the government is caught stealing innocent property against the very foundations of this country, they should be forced to add a Zero to the returned figure. He should be getting 110,000 back plus court costs. Getting the original amount back after years of fighting without any form or remuneration for rights violations and pain and suffering, is not enough. Bankrupt the organizations stealing the money in the first place and stop pretending seizing assets without a guilty verdict and due process has any place in the United States of America.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Every time they have to return stolen Money

The article says they did, although they didn’t specify at what rate:

“The United States government has agreed to give Charles Clarke back every penny of the $11,000 it seized from him at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in February 2014, plus interest.” – Institute of Justice quote

Rekrul says:

I have a serious question;

In most of this asset forfeiture cases, the person usually allowed the cops to take the cash so that they could be on their way rather than getting arrested.

My question is; If the person with the cash refuses to allow it to be taken and the cops end up arresting them, does that in any way make it harder for the authorities to try and confiscate the cash? Does the cash then become evidence while they try to find a way to justify their seizure of it? Or can they just as easily file forfeiture proceedings against the cash, leading to the person losing their money **and** having to deal with bogus charges?

I understand that very few people want the enormous hassle and stigma of getting arrested, I’m just wondering if a person *was* willing to deal with all that, would it be a way to stop the cash grab by the cops? It seems to me that they would have a much more difficult time arguing a charge of obstruction when the only “obstruction” that occurred was not letting the cops steal the cash.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The issue here is that you give them more time to find something to charge you with. In addition small towns will often say “We can run you into jail, o and the judge wont be back for 3 weeks, or you can give us here this nice car and be on your way”.

No joke. But in the end it really depends on who is trying to take your money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

My question is; If the person with the cash refuses to allow it to be taken and the cops end up arresting them, does that in any way make it harder for the authorities to try and confiscate the cash?

No! It makes it easier. Cops assume that if you are not cooperative, Fourth Amendment be damned, you are guilty and they are removing a dangerous felon from the streets. Also by being non cooperative you are resisting arrest. That means that not only do you most like get the shit beat out of you – if you are lucky – and if not lucky – looking at the bottom side of daisies – plus you get 5 years additional time in a place the sun does not shine for resisting arrest.

I watched a drug bust one time. First the cop batter down the door. Then they brought in the drugs. Then they brought in the dog to find the drugs. Then they drugged, literally, the guy out and through him in the back of a police car where one of them proceeded to beat the shit out of him. During this whole time the druggie was handcuffed and dazed. One should say suspect but there was no suspect about this the cops having brought, planted, and found the evidence that assured his guilt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“My question is; If the person with the cash refuses to allow it to be taken and the cops end up arresting them, does that in any way make it harder for the authorities to try and confiscate the cash?”

My guess is that the procedural approach precluded the refusal. The guy was probably separated from his luggage before he was aware that he was detained, or notified of the seizure in any way. So to “refuse” he would have had to initiate a conflict with armed officers, while he was outnumbered several to one, perhaps detained or isolated in a interrogation room, and as yet, unaware that his money was already tagged and out the door.

I doubt that there was any moment where the suspect was both aware of the ability or need to refuse, and not under duress. Which is really the crux of the issue, and how you know it’s robbery.

Not to say the victem couldn’t get aggressive after the money was gone. But it would take some giant brass balls. The cops aren’t going to tell the victem that he’s been robbed until they are ready to walk away. The purpose of the delay is to make it difficult for the victem to argue that he was provoked. Which is how you know the theft is premeditated.

But I think there is still an opportunity for somebody willing to risk a beating. I mean eventually somebody is going to realize that if they get physical in a situation like this, there is a good chance that they will win in front of a jury.

There would need to be plenty of video showing them clearly articulating their reservation of rights, and then escalating until the cops dished out a beating. I would characterize the risk as basically, five or six years in lockup (or possibly even death), vs. ten years of litigation and then maybe, a multi-million dollar payout.

So it is a hell of a gamble. Optimally the gambler would need to be somebody a jury would sympathize with, or be predisposed to want to defend. Perhaps a nerdy white female would be optimal.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Spineless and corrupt politicians + greedy and corrupt cops

Because drugs!

Even the barest glimmer of a possibility of drugs means all those pesky things like ‘due process’ and ‘innocent until proven guilty in a court of law’ are out the window, because the very idea that someone might use an illegal mind-altering substance(as opposed to the legal ones) is more than enough to justify violations of laws and rights, as the former is much more serious than the latter.

Drugs!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is the “bubble effect”.
People hear stories about the evil drug dealers & how they can take the money to stop them.
As most regular citizens aren’t getting pulled over they assume anyone stopped must be a bad person who needs to be robbed.
Since it has never happened to them, and don’t expect it to happen to them their bubble protects them from considering they might screw ‘Good People(tm)’ with these witch hunts.
They also enjoy knowing that their taxes might be a touch lower, because the department has this wonderful new revenue stream.

It is the same mentality of people who always support cops no matter what… even if what is video of him shooting an unarmed fleeing man in the back.

David says:

One detail:

the property owner is tied up in bureaucratic paperwork with strict time limits that is wholly reliant on the seizing agency properly notifying seizure victims of the whereabouts of their cash, etc.

Uh, the seizure victim is the cash. If the person previously in control of the cash wanted to know about its whereabouts, he first would have to prove to be its legal guardian which is tantamount to proving he is the legal owner.

Unless the cash itself asks for contacting him as its next of kin, there is no reason to notify its kidnapper of its whereabouts.

I mean, once we are in fantasy lala land filing charges against the cash, doing a half-baked job would be un-American.

Bohemia had Kafka, the U.S. has the DEA, and it’s better funded. Not least of all because it has a license to loot.

bobby b says:

Most people have no idea how common this is – how many times, in almost every jurisdiction across the country, cops and prosecutors steal peoples’ money without any evidence of crime.

IIRC, 2015 was a record year. Cops stole more money through asset forfeiture than was stolen across the entire country in burglaries.

Think about that. Cops stole more money than all of the burglars and thieves did in this country.

And cops have a huge incentive to steal as much as possible: they get to keep it and spend it on whatever they want, outside of their budgets, with no oversight.

They use it to buy AR-15s and HMMV’s and cell intercept equipment – all of the stuff they can’t get their funding taxpayers to finance.

Anonymous Coward says:

How does Miranda v. Arizona apply to asset forfeiture?

If a criminal case can be prosecuted against an asset, then how can an asset knowingly waive its rights? And if the asset hasn’t waived it’s rights, then it is required to have legal representation in it’s defense.

Really the BAR should be suing over this. They are getting screwed out of millions of dollars worth of billable hours.

Kiera Law says:

It is good that this money was returned to him since it was not his fault. Now he can easily realize this money for study as he wanted. I think he will not have questions about his studies because now he can easily buy college papers through https://paperial.com/buy-college-papers which he is a reliable leader in the world of study. And this is very important both for him and for all who find themselves in such a situation.

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