According to a new article from Radley Balko in the Huffington Post, the Brown County Wisconsin Drug Task Force, and others, may be using the state’s civil forfeiture laws to confiscate people’s bail money under highly questionable circumstances, keeping the money for themselves and not releasing the people the bail was intended to free.
Under the law, the police can confiscate cash and property if it can be (loosely) tied to a drug offense. When a family comes in to pay their loved one’s bail, the cops could take their money under this law if they can determine it was “dirty” or the results of the drug trade. But this practice is highly controversial, particularly when the evidence used to tie the money to drugs is flimsy at best.
According to the post, one such case involved a man who was arrested and granted a $7,500 bail. His family and friends raised the money but were told by officials at the Brown County Jail that the bail had to be issued in cash (untrue: bail can be paid by check cashier’s check, or credit card, and police can’t insist on cash). However, the family visited several ATM’s in order to get the cash and came to the jail to free their loved one.
Once there, the police had the money sniffed by a drug dog and told the family that the dog indicated the presence of narcotics, that they would be keeping the money, and that their loved one would not be released.
In another case, a man was charged with misdemeanor drug possession and a misdemeanor gun charge; the bail was set at $5,000. Police seized his bail money too, after family members had borrowed from others to raise the cash.
In both cases, the families had to go through the courts to get their money back, producing ATM receipts and documentation that the money was not, in fact, drug money.
According to Balko:
Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property — a car, a pile of cash, a house — can be guilty of a crime. Laws vary from state to state, but generally, law enforcement officials can seize property if they can show any connection between the property and illegal activity. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove in court that he owns it or earned it legitimately. It doesn’t require a property owner to actually be convicted of a crime. In fact, most people who lose property to civil asset forfeiture are never charged.
It’s widely known that nearly all cash has traces of narcotics on it, and in a state where bail bondsmen are not allowed, families sometimes go through dramatic means to borrow and raise the money for bail. To then take this money and restrain the defendant for even longer is a travesty.
If you are facing criminal charges and are unsure of whether or not you will be granted bail. Or if you just have questions about your options—contact our offices today.