If police feel that your money is involved with a criminal case, they can seize it. For example, police officers will withhold your cash if they feel that it is connected with a drug offense. Let’s say you are pulled over and police officers smell marijuana in your car or find other drug paraphernalia. They may seize any money that you have if they feel that it may be connected to drug trafficking (See California Health & Safety Code 11470(f)).1
A Case Example of Police Seizing Cash as Evidence
On Sept. 2, 2007, a man was driving through central Georgia on i-75 to see his mother. Two sheriff’s deputies pulled him over for speeding. In the police video, the man appeared to have bloodshot eyes as he was giving unclear answers to the officers’ questions.2 The officers also smelled marijuana coming from his car.
The deputies learned that the man had $5,581 in cash in his pockets. He said it was from his car-detailing business. The video shows one of the deputies telling him, “Look man, here’s the deal. We’re (going to) take this money into our possession, okay?”
The man quickly responded, “Oh no, I’m not giving you authority to take that money into your possession.” However, they still took it from him. The officers told him that the money “looked like drug money.” He was not arrested or cited for a traffic violation.3
When Can Law Enforcement Take Your Money?
Under the California Control of Profits of Organized Crime Act, police are allowed to seize your money as evidence if it is suspected to be linked to certain crimes.
Some examples of the crimes listed under this act include:
- Child pornography;
- Grand theft;
- Receiving stolen property.4
Can You Get Your Money Back?
If the police seize your cash as evidence, can they keep this money? In other words, as soon as they seize the funds, have you completely forfeited it? How can you get it back?
California Health and Safety Code Sections 11469-11495 explain that if police seize cash valuing $25,000 or more, they are allowed to keep it, even if you are not convicted of the underlying crime. However, the police have the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the money seized (in excess of $25,000) was involved in purchasing illegal drugs.
On the other hand, a criminal conviction is required before law enforcement can keep any money or cash if that amount is less than $25,000. In order to get your cash back, you must file a claim with the court within 30 days of the forfeiture.
The court will then conduct a hearing, where the prosecutor has to prove that the money was derived from a crime or used in a crime.5
Give Us Your Feedback
Is it fair that police can seize your money without first obtaining a conviction? Does it make sense that they are allowed to keep $25,000 or more in funds, even if a conviction does not occur? Wallin & Klarich would like to hear your opinion on this issue.