Law enforcement civil asset forfeiture abuse is out of control and it is most evident at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The Airport Police and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) spent a lot of time looking for travelers they believe fits the profileof someone traveling with large amounts of cash. These travelers are those who book their flights on short notice, have little or no luggage, and have quick return flights.
The location of the flights are of interest to them as well. California seems to be a place where they believe people are purchasing large amounts of marijuana and shipping it back to Michigan. When they find someone fitting their profile, they will stop and question them. If that person has a large amount of money, no matter the reason, they take it.
Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws permit law enforcement to seize money or property if they have “probable cause” to believe it is proceeds of illegal drug trafficking. The problem is they will make up a reason, giving them a right to take the money and force the person to fight for it back. First, the person, or claimant, has to file a written claim within 20 days. If they do so timely,, then they will negotiate with the county or federal prosecuting attorneys who will try to keep as much as they can.
How the Detroit Metropolitan Airport Police were able to steal $10,000
I recently had a client who booked a flight to LA that was leaving Detroit a few days later. The return flight was the following day. He was going to purchase some merchandise for his legitimate business in cash. He traveled with only a carry on. Detroit Metro Airport police stopped and questioned him. They discovered he had about $60,000 in cash in his bag and confiscated it. Of course, their actions inspire fear and intimidation. In this case, the right to contest the seizure was unknowingly waived.
They stole his money without any evidence that it was drug trafficking proceeds. The police believe that travelers are bringing cash to California to purchase marijuana to sell in Michigan. Even if this were true, which in my client’s case it was not, that does not turn the cash into drug trafficking proceeds. Perhaps it’s meant to be exchanged for drugs, but that is not the applicable law.
Evidently, the law does not matter to the police because all they are interested in is keeping as much money as possible. The waiver was coerced and since there was no evidence of drug trafficking proceeds, I was able to return $50,000 to my client. However, the police still were able to keep $10,000 of my client’s money. That is a lot of money to steal, yet they got away with it. It would cost more in legal fees to fight it.
So what should someone do if they want to travel with cash without being subject to airport police seizure?
1. Do not travel with medical marijuana
Having cash in close proximity to controlled substances, including medical or recreational marijuana, will give them a reason to seize the money because it was intended for interstate travel.
2. Do not answer any police questions
The most harmful information generally comes directly from the person with the money trying to explain what is going on. There is no obligation to say anything. The best advice is to tell them that your lawyer will be in touch immediately.
3. Do not consent to a search
The police generally do not have a right to search your stuff so do not let them. They will immediately be out of luck. Unless you are under arrest, which is generally impossible unless you have done something wrong, they should let you go.
4. Do not waive your right to contest the seizure
This is a new tactic. The police use fear and intimidation to get the person to sign a waiver. While we usually successfully fight these in court, there is no reason ever to sign them. Every person has a right to not do any of the above requested action. By following this advice, you will be able to keep your money.
If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation, our team of attorneys are experienced in fighting civil asset forfeiture. We will fight for your money and your reputation, even if it means going up against law enforcement.
Attorney Morris has enjoyed a very successful and distinguished career as a trial lawyer providing high quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for 20 years. He is known for his trial preparation by fellow attorneys, judges and clients alike. As a trial attorney, he is dedicated to attaining justice in every case, and is prepared to take on complex legal issues with success. Barton and his law firm pride themselves on obtaining results for their clients that other attorneys cannot.
Not only does Barton Morris have extensive experience, he also engages in continuing legal education to provide the highest quality legal services. Barton has received specialized scientific training through the American Chemical Society. He attended the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and serves on its Alumni Association Board of Directors. Barton Morris is also a board member of several distinguished legal associations including the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, and the DUI Defense Lawyer’s Association Justice Foundation. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and has also graduated from their National Criminal Defense Trial College in Macon, Georgia.
Barton Morris was chosen as a Top Lawyer of Metro Detroit for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020 for DUI/DWI and criminal defense by DBusiness Magazine and Hour Magazine. Barton Morris was also chosen as a Super Lawyer in Criminal Defense for 2014-2020 and Barton Morris is the only Lawyer in Michigan designated by the American Chemical Society as a “Forensic Lawyer-Scientist”