Another misconception in the United Police States of America: that we as Americans have a right to our possessions and our hard-earned cash.
Nationwide, DEA agents can confiscate whatever they want without ever charging you with a crime.
This happened to Joseph Rivers, who boarded an Amtrak train from New Mexico to Los Angeles with $16,000 in cash to fulfill his lifelong dream of starting a music company.
The Albuquerque Journal reported: A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.
When the agent found River’s cash, still in a bank envelope, he asked what it was for. Rivers explained he was starting a business in California and he’d had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out of state banks.
According to The Washington Post, the agent didn’t believe him, even when Rivers called his mother, who corroborated the story.
There was nothing in Rivers’s bag to suggest he was involved in anything illegal or related to the drug trade, but the DEA agent confiscated all of the $16,000 anyway.
To this day, Rivers was never charged with a crime or given any logical reason why the DEA took the cash.
Rivers has since hired a lawyer, but it’s doubtful that he’ll ever recover any of his money.
How is this legal? Well, the Washington Post reports:
There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion -- in practice, often a vague one -- that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year. Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back -- even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime.
A DEA agent summed it up like this: “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty. It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty."
Not surprisingly, asset forfeiture is extremely lucrative for the DEA. According to their latest notification of seized goods (updated last week), agents have seized well over $38 million dollars' worth of cash and goods from people in just the first few months of this year.
Some of these goods may be directly related to ongoing criminal investigations, but most of them are not.
In fiscal year 2014, Justice Department agencies made a total of $3.9 billion in civil asset seizures, versus only $679 million in criminal asset seizures.
In most years since 2008, civil asset forfeitures have accounted for the lion's share of total seizures.
So to put this in perspective, what happened to Joseph Rivers isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, people like Joseph Rivers account for the majority of funds the DEA seizes, not drug criminals.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.
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