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The seizure of nearly $19,000 in cash from a hidden compartment in an
automobile by Lyon County, Kansas sheriff’s deputies has critics
questioning the validity of the search and the decision of the sheriff’s
department to keep the money, despite making no arrests.

In addition to criticizing the manner of the seizure, critics are
also questioning both the validity and motives behind laws and Supreme
Court decisions that, apparently, grant states the right to make such
seizures.

According to a published report, deputies made
a “routine traffic stop” of a car traveling on I-35 near Emporia, Kan.,
in the early morning hours on Aug. 21. Deputies — likely suspecting the
two men traveling in the vehicle had drug connections — radioed for
nearby Coffee County Sheriff’s Department deputies to assist them with a
canine unit while searching the vehicle.

During the search, dogs sniffed out a hidden compartment in the rear
of the vehicle containing $18,400 in cash. Officers then confiscated
the cash but made no arrests and, according to the report, found no
drugs or other contraband in the vehicle or on either suspect.

Despite never being arrested for any crime, both men — who were not
named in the report — must now file a civil court action to recover the
money. Otherwise, county officials will be able to keep the money,
which would eventually be divided between the sheriff’s department and
the county prosecuting attorney’s office.

Such forfeiture laws, professedly born of the federal government’s
quest to battle drug trafficking, have given law enforcement officials
and government bureaucracies a license to steal, critics say, because as
the Kansas case demonstrates, there need not be any charges filed
against a suspect in order to seize the suspect’s assets. Large sums of
cash found on a person is only one of a number of profile items, but
each constitutes a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection
against illegal search and seizure, they say.

Rick Buck, assistant attorney for Lyon County, told WorldNetDaily
that the drivers of the vehicle, which he did not identify, have still
had no charges filed against them “at this time.” He added he “had not
heard” whether the drivers had filed any civil action to reclaim their
money, and “could not say” why officers stopped the vehicle, except that
“it’s likely they were in violation of some state statute.” And though
the incident occurred two weeks ago, Buck said he “had not yet reviewed
the officers’ report.”

Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute
said that officers were likely “just enforcing Kansas traffic laws,” but
agreed that a loose interpretation of the Fourth Amendment
has, over the years, given police more legal flexibility. “Of course,
traffic stops are frequently pretexts to start a wider investigation,”
he added.

“As you know,” Kopel told WorldNetDaily, “the Fourth Amendment
requires a court-issued warrant based on probable cause before any
searches are carried out.” However, he said, in the 1920s “the Supreme
Court began to create ‘automobile exceptions’ to the Fourth Amendment.”

The high court reasoned — albeit incorrectly, Kopel said — that
since vehicles were “mobile, perhaps they wouldn’t be around by the time
a warrant was issued.” But, he said, “they didn’t apply the same
principle to horses and carriages and the ability for police to search
saddlebags before getting a warrant.”

Nevertheless, he said, “the search in Kansas is probably legal based
on Supreme Court precedents.”

Kopel also said in recent years the Court has “generally upheld civil
forfeiture laws,” though the Justices have been showing some “gumption
of late about enforcing a little due process in the whole thing.”

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