It may no longer be safe to carry cash with you when you drive on interstates in America.
A Minnesota couple found this out the hard way when police in Iowa seized nearly $50,000 in cash from them without a warrant or even charging them with a crime on one of the nation’s busiest highways.
Iowa City police officers took $48,000 from Kearnice C. Overton after pulling him over for speeding on Interstate 80 on March 16, a lawsuit filed by Overton and Tiffani D.S. Barber alleges. The seizure was prompted by a “silent indicator” by a police dog, The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported. The nature of the indicator was not explained.
“This money was wrongfully seized. I was not arrested, nor were any charges lodged against me in connection with this money,” Overton stated in court documents. He added the “money was in no way connected to any criminal activity.”
Overton and Barber claim they were planning to use the money to buy real estate in Rock Island, Illinois. Around $44,000 was found in Overton’s gym bag and another $4,000 was found in his coat pocket. He reportedly had his four children with him in the car when stopped by police.
Overton was cited for driving without a valid license, although he contends the citation was wrong and he has a valid driver’s license.
The Iowa City Police declined to discuss the seizure or the policy behind it. Although one officer did make a rather disturbing statement to the press:
“It’s very unusual for people to be out and about with that much cash on their person or in their car,” Iowa City Police Sergeant Vicki Lalla told The Press-Citizen. Lalla said she couldn’t discuss the Overton’s allegations.
Civil Forfeiture Becoming More Common
Overton and Barber will get their day in court on May 6, when a Johnson County Court will hear their petition.
Sadly, their case is not that rare – although there have been happy endings.
California resident Tan Nguyen was able to get $50,000 in casino winnings that was seized by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada.
Like Overton, Nguyen was stopped for speeding when the cash was taken. He was reportedly driving 78 miles per hour in a 75 mph zone on I-80.
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Overton’s allegations indicate that police in Iowa City may be running a forfeiture corridor on I-80. A forfeiture corridor is a stretch of highway where police stop cars, look for drugs and suspicious activity, and seize cash from drivers. Most of the cash is taken from drug smugglers and other criminals who let police take it as long as the cops let them go. Often, police don’t even find drugs.
Unfortunately many law-abiding citizens have had large amounts of cash seized in stops. A recent US Supreme Court ruling, Prado Navarette vs. California, could make it even easier for police to operate foreclosure corridors. That decision enables police to stop cars based on anonymous 911 tips and search them. Supreme Court Justice Antonin J. Scalia charged in a dissent that the Prado ruling will lead to more police stops and more seizures.
Cases like this demonstrate that it is no longer safe for law-abiding citizens to carry large sums of cash on them when they drive on America’s highways. Look for alternatives.
Do you believe civil forfeiture is truly a problem or simply the result of a few bad cops? Let us know in the comments below.