Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Legislature Could Dash Cops’ Practice of Taking Cash

Tennesseans, and anybody else traveling in the state, would get protection from improper seizure of their property under a proposal in the General Assembly with backers across the political spectrum, the Huffington Post reports:

According to the libertarian law firm Institute for Justice, every state in the country has some version of a civil asset forfeiture law. Under (Rep. Barrett Rich’s HB 1078), Tennessee would be the first to abolish it. …

Much of the call for reform over the years has come from alliances between conservatives, who are appalled by forfeiture laws’ disregard for property rights, and progressives, who are alarmed by the laws’ tendency to encourage racial profiling on the highways and their disproportionate effect on the poor. Simply carrying a lot of cash, for example, is often seen by police as an indication of illegal drug activity, and the poor and undocumented immigrants are more likely to carry cash.

The bill would make it harder for law enforcement to make a traffic stop, then seize cash or other private property without ever charging the owner with a crime. The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in a House Criminal Justice subcommittee.

The money pads the coffers of law enforcement, with the burden of proof on the individual if they’re interested in getting their money back.

“Guilty until proven innocent,” is how the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee describes the situation. “Under current Tennessee law, no standard of probable cause is required to seize and hold private property – a hunch is all it takes.”

The bill would require the issuance of a forfeiture warrant prior to seizure and a conviction before the property can be forfeited.

The legislation follows a series of investigations by NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams into what amounts to “highway shakedowns,” according to one expert interviewed by Williams. Using public records, Williams discovered that cops focused their efforts on the westbound side of Interstate 40 outside Nashville – where they were more likely to collect cash – rather than the eastbound side as drugs travel into the city.