CINCINNATI — A college student whose life savings was seized because police said they smelled marijuana on his luggage is getting all of his cash back – plus interest — after nearly two years of a legal fight.
Police stopped Clarke and took the money from a checked bag while he was waiting to board a plane at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in February 2014. He was never charged with a crime, but police nevertheless said they had the legal power to keep the $11,000 under civil forfeiture laws – claiming it was proceeds from drug trafficking.
Clarke had intended to use the money to pay for furniture and living expenses at college. The cash  came from odd jobs, financial aid and veterans’ benefits Clarke receives because his mother is a wounded vet. He was flying back to Florida from a visit to relatives in Ohio at the time of the seizure.
The Institute for Justice sued the government on his behalf and announced Nov. 29 that the U.S. Justice Department had agreed to return all of the money, plus interest.
“Charles is very pleased that he will get his life savings back and that the whole ordeal is now behind him,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Darpana Sheth. “Civil forfeiture is wrong. It allows law enforcement to seize and keep property without ever charging someone with a crime. Even worse, it encourages law enforcement to seize as much money and property as possible by allowing agencies to keep the proceeds for themselves.”
At the time of the lawsuit, Clarke said it was tough “to make ends meet” after the money was seized.
“I had to borrow money from family, and I was embarrassed,” he said. “No one should have to go through the nightmare I went through simply because they choose to carry their hard-earned cash.”
Under civil forfeiture, law enforcement can take money without a charge or conviction. Although few Americans travel with large amounts of cash, some do.
“Charles did not put all of his money in the bank because he preferred to use cash and his bank had few physical branches,” the Institute for Justice said in a press release. “He traveled with the cash because he and his mother were moving and Charles did not want the money to get lost while he spent time in Cincinnati.”
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