A Small Victory Against Civil Forfeiture Abuse

After Tan Nguyen was pulled over for driving three miles above the speed limit, he had $50,000 confiscated by a Nevada deputy. According to Nguyen, that money was casino winnings. As reported last week at Forbes, Nguyen “was not arrested or charged with a crime—not even a traffic citation.”

He filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing his civil rights were violated by an “unconstitutional search and seizure.” In that lawsuit, Nguyen claimed Deputy Lee Dove, who had pulled him over for speeding, threatened to seize and tow his car unless he “got in his car and drove off and forgot this ever happened.”

But in a settlement reached last week with Humboldt County, Nevada, Nguyen was fully reimbursed for all of the cash that was taken from him. He also received $10,000 to cover attorney’s fees.

More here.

Civil asset forfeiture may serve a purpose when targeting organized crime, but has turned into a “monetary tail wagging the law enforcement dog.” The idea of “innocent until proven guilty” gets turned on its head, as the property owner has to prove the property in question was not used in a crime, regardless of whether law enforcement can prove the property owner is specifically guilty of the crime in question.

Unfortunately, I have experience with asset forfeiture. A member of my household was accused of computer hacking. Our computers were seized, with the promise that any hacking done on the computers would be uncovered. No such evidence was ever brought forth, and nobody from my household was ever charged with a crime. We made the mistake of using an insecure router during that time. Law enforcement stated an IP address coming from our household was used for the hacking. This was their excuse for never returning the computers. Thankfully, we weren’t among those who had thousands of dollars confiscated, and the computers in question were getting obsolete. However, family photos, including newborn pictures of my son, are now lost for good because property isn’t “innocent until proven guilty.”

It’s good to see Mr. Nguyen beat the odds and get his money back. Most people aren’t so fortunate.

The ACLU has a good round-up of civil forfeiture stories here.

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