A classic tale from the War (on Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs:
Anastasio Prieto of El Paso gave a state police officer at the weigh station permission to search the truck to see if it contained “needles or cash in excess of $10,000,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the federal lawsuit Thursday.
Prieto told the officer he didn’t have any needles but did have $23,700.
Officers took the money and turned it over to the DEA. DEA agents photographed and fingerprinted Prieto over his objections, then released him without charging him with anything.
Border Patrol agents searched his truck with drug-sniffing dogs, but found no evidence of illegal substances, the ACLU said.
DEA agents told Prieto he would receive a notice of federal proceedings to permanently forfeit the money within 30 days and that to get it back, he’d have to prove it was his and did not come from illegal drug sales.
They told him the process probably would take a year, the ACLU said.
The ACLU’s New Mexico executive director, Peter Simonson, said Prieto needs his money now to pay bills and maintain his truck. The lawsuit said Prieto does not like banks and customarily carries his savings as cash.
“The government took Mr. Prieto’s money as surely as if he had been robbed on a street corner at night,” Simonson said. “In fact, being robbed might have been better. At least then the police would have treated him as the victim of a crime instead of as a perpetrator.”
Nice little theft-by-tautology racket the DEA has going there: cash is the basis for the search, and then you can confiscate the cash even if there’s no other evidence of a crime, and the burden of proof reverts to the person whose cash was seized despite said lack of corroborating evidence. At least in the landmark case Reed v. Big Old Cop before the cop said he’d “keep all that money for evidence” they actually saw them shooting craps…