Aside from the normal precautions that you may need to take when going on a road trip, consider also taking precautions for a less widely known hazard of road trip travel, i.e., contact with law enforcement agencies.
Although civil asset seizure has always been prevalent in the United States, since September 2001, it has been more pervasive as the federal government has been training and encouraging local law enforcement agencies to seize personal property from those traveling on America’s highways. If there is any “suspicion” that the property is connected to a crime, it is at risk of seizure.
Law Enforcement Does Not Have to Charge You With A Crime to Keep Your Property
The City of Albuquerque, New Mexico has two interstate highways that intersect it, making civil asset seizure a bounty for both state, city and county law enforcement agencies. A simple traffic stop by law enforcement can result in asset seizure without ever being charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies are trained to ask for permission to search a vehicle and many times, perfectly innocent items can prompt an asset seizure.
For example, if you are carrying with you a large sum of cash, law enforcement officers can accuse you of having the cash in anticipation of making a drug deal, and seize the cash, all without ever charging you with a crime or initiating forfeiture proceedings. Even having expensive items in your vehicle without receipts, such as video game consoles or jewelry, can result in a seizure as an investigation is now launched into whether or not you are transporting stolen goods. In other instances, even your vehicle may be seized, leaving you stranded.
If Your Property Has Been Seized, You Have A Right to Fight to Get it Back
When you are traveling through an unfamiliar city and you have an unexpected encounter with local law enforcement, the experience can be very traumatic. In many occasions, law enforcement officers know that you are in a hurry to travel somewhere else and encourage you to continue on your travels while keeping your property for evidence, while they conduct an investigation, knowing that a lot of people will not contest the seizure in court.
Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to aggressively search for suspicious people, drugs and contraband and unfortunately, a lot of those encounters are with law abiding citizens that through no fault of their own do get caught up in the asset seizure quagmire that may take months and considerable expense and legal fees to get those items returned. In many instances, law enforcement agencies will not even pursue a forfeiture case, leaving it to the law abiding citizen to sue the department for return of their seized property.
Don’t Expect Fairness Without a Fight
News agencies throughout the United States have begun reporting and investigating what many have experienced and seen for years, legal battles against law enforcement agencies for the return of seized property in cases where a person was never charged with a crime, or the law enforcement agency initiated a forfeiture proceeding.
These aggressive seizure tactics are unfortunately used by many law enforcement agencies not to fight crime but to acquire assets for their departments. No matter that it is accomplished on the backs of innocent citizens and families. When asset acquisition is the goal, it goes without saying that fairness is not part of the equation.
Regardless of your situation, you should seek competent and experienced legal counsel if this happens to you. Albuquerque attorneys, Collins & Collins, P.C., can be reached at (505) 242-5958.