By Greg Markle | Watchdog Opinion
A farmer named Lorenzo Ayala saved up $16,000 and was on his way to spend it on tractor parts. Unfortunately, he never got those tractor parts. The money was confiscated by Montana police.
The police say they smelled cologne and other strong smells in the cluttered car, which they know can be a tactic to cover the smell of drugs. They said the accumulation of trash in a car was also a sign of someone who’s on the road for long periods of time, transporting drugs. They conducted a search of Ayala’s vehicle but didn’t find any drugs. They did find and seize his $16,000 cash.
Is it a crime to have a lot of cash? No, but in 41 states, if the police find a lot of money in your car, they may be able to legally seize it without charging you with a crime. To get your money back, the burden of proof then lies on you to prove that neither you nor your stuff was involved in a crime. According to The Washington Post, police have seized over $2.5 billion since 2001 from people who were not charged with a crime.
Critics of the practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, say we can’t allow police to seize American citizens’ money without any due process or trial, especially when they have an incentive to do so because that money is spent by the police department.
Montana has since passed a reform putting the burden of proof on the government to show that any money seized was obtained from or intends for illegal activity. This is a rare issue that Republicans and Democrats are actually working on together to fix, in a bipartisan movement to reform civil asset forfeiture laws across the country.
In the words of Ayala’s attorney, Chris Young:
The police ought to have to prove something before they take your stuff away. And now they do.
This piece was first published by Generation Opportunity.