It appears that anyone visiting Tennessee this summer should leave their cash at home. A New Jersey man has encountered an outrageous policy among police in that state to seize large amounts of cash from out-of-state visitors without any probable cause of a crime. The practice brings a new meaning to “highway robbery.”
A professional insurance adjuster, George Reby, was traveling through the state from New Jersey when he was stopped and asked by Officer Larry Bates if he had large amounts of cash. He said that he did — $22,000. The officer demanded the money and said that he was confiscating the money on suspicion of drug activity. That is it. The mere fact that he was carrying a large amount of cash was enough under this policy to seize the money. The police know that many out-of-state travelers never come back for the cash and they are then allowed to keep the money for their own uses at the department.
Even though Reby explained why he had the money, it did not matter. The fact that he completely cooperated in allowing a full search of his car did not matter. What mattered was that the police wanted the cash.
Bates admitted that he did not arrest Reby because he did not commit any crime. However, he reminded drivers that “[t]he safest place to put your money if it’s legitimate is in a bank account. He stated he had two. I would put it in a bank account. It draws interest and it’s safer.”
Bates said that he was right to take the money because “he couldn’t prove it was legitimate.” That of course flips the normal presumption under criminal law, but it is an example of how police powers have increased in this country.
To made matters even more authoritarian, Tennessee law allows a judge to sign off on the seizure in an ex parte proceeding. Reby was never informed of the hearing. Only the officer’s account is considered at such hearings.
While Reby insists that he offered to show proof on his computer as to the source of the money, the offer was not reported to the court. Bates simply stated “common people do not carry this much U.S. currency.” He noted later that “a thousand-dollar bundle could approximately buy two ounces of cocaine.” Of course, ten dollars can buy drugs as well as a thousand dollars can buy a jet ski.
Bates also said Reby had a criminal history despite the fact that it was 20 years ago and did not result in any conviction. He also said the money was hidden in the car despite the fact the Reby consented to the search and told the officer about the bag (and gave the bag to the officer).
It takes months for travelers to get their money back and many give up. In Reby’s case, he was forced to travel back to Tennessee to pick up the check and was given no apology for the abusive seizure. Bates will not be disciplined.
The policy in Tennessee is a disgrace, but neither local prosecutors or judges appear motivated to stop the obvious abuse of travelers. Putting aside this case, the seizure of property has become a huge bonanza for prosecutors and police across the country. The threshold showing for such seizure is now so low that they can seize first and ask questions later. It creates a perverse incentive for police officers and their departments when such property and cash ultimately can be claimed by law enforcement. One obvious reform is to stipulate that police and prosecutors cannot benefit from seizures — removing the incentive for broad seizures.
The Tennessee policy makes its recent slogan “Follow Me To Tennessee” sound a bit more menacing. However, they may want to go back to it. The new slogan does not quite fit with its seizure policies targeting out-of-state travelers: “Tennessee- America at its best.”
Source: News Channel 5 as first seen on Reddit.