The Iowa Highway Patrol pulled me over, took my money, but never charged me with a crime! What can I do?
Law enforcement is becoming increasingly aggressive in pursuing forfeiture of cash seized in traffic stops along Iowa’s interstate system. According to law enforcement Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 are pipelines for drug trafficking between the cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Omaha, and “source” states such as Arizona, California, Texas and Washington. Consequently the Iowa State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, especially Poweshiek County, Dallas County and Pottawattamie County, are focusing “interdiction” efforts on Iowa’s interstates.
One purpose of Iowa’s interdiction efforts is to make “drug busts,” in which they seize large quantities of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or other illegal drugs and consequently charge the individual’s in the vehicles with narcotic trafficking offenses. The other purpose is to discover, seize and attempt to forfeit cash that is being transported in vehicles that they believe is connected with narcotics trafficking and drug sales. Law enforcement is known to seize large quantities of cash even when no evidence of drug dealing is available or is discovered. Sometimes they will simply ask the individuals in the vehicle to sign paperwork saying that the cash is not theirs and when no one claims it within the specified time period, the money is automatically forfeited. Other times, when the cash is claimed, they serve forfeiture paperwork just based upon their belief that all large quantities of cash must be the result of a drug deal despite the fact that it is completely legal to carry cash.
This begs the question: What is actually required to forfeit cash seized by law enforcement?
The Iowa Code defines property that is subject to forfeiture as follows:
1. All controlled substances that are manufactured, distributed, dispensed, possessed or acquired in violation of Iowa law;
2. All property that is either:
a. Exchanged in a transaction that constitutes conduct giving rise to forfeiture;
b. Used or intended to be used to facilitate conduct giving rise to forfeiture.
3. Proceeds of any conduct giving rise to forfeiture;
4. Weapons used to facilitate conduct giving rise to forfeiture.
“Conduct giving rise to forfeiture” is any “public offense” (criminal act) which is a serious misdemeanor, aggravated misdemeanor, or felony. This includes, among other things, possession of controlled substances and related offenses as well.
Under Iowa law, a presumption of forfeiture arises if the State can prove any of the following;
1. The claimant has engaged in conduct giving rise to forfeiture;
2. The property was acquired by the person during the period of the conduct giving rise to forfeiture or within a reasonable time after that period; or
3. No likely source for acquisition of the property exists other than the conduct giving rise to forfeiture.
If any of those three factors are proven, the burden then shifts to the claimant to prove that the seized cash or other property was not involved in illegal activity and is not subject to forfeiture. A claimant can also assert an innocent owner defense if they had no knowledge that any of the seized property was involved in criminal activity. Also, if evidence is illegally obtained or the money is illegally seized, an additional defense to its forfeiture can be asserted.
It is important to understand that in every forfeiture action, there are strictly enforced time deadlines within which to file answers to seizure notices and to assert affirmative defenses to a forfeiture action. If one is to succeed in defending the State’s attempt to take their cash or property, immediate action is necessary.