Police grab and keep $8,000 from woman in horrific story

By Bob Unruh

(Photo by Celyn Kang on Unsplash)
(Photo by Celyn Kang on Unsplash)

Civil forfeiture is becoming more and more of an issue in the United States. Many jurisdictions allow police to simply take money from people, and keep it, even if those who lose the money never are accused of a crime.

That’s been a standard for many years, until just recently when people started fighting back.

Of late, there have been several decisions that say police departments, which often want to simply keep the money for their own budgets, no longer can grab the cash and spend it.

The Institute for Justice is reporting the latest victory in that fight.

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It was a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said a Rochester woman is entitled to make her case in front of a judge nearly three years after Rochester police took more than $8,000 from her without charging her with a crime.

The IJ reported, “Cristal Starling previously lost her $8,000 when—representing herself in her civil forfeiture case—she missed one of several deadlines to contest the forfeiture. Cristal appealed, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), and the 2nd Circuit held that Cristal should not lose her money forever because of a single missed deadline.”

“Today’s decision will have important consequences for civil forfeiture victims who are trying to navigate complicated forfeiture procedures, often without help from a lawyer,” said IJ lawyer Rob Johnson. “If the government wants to take your money, they should have to prove you did something wrong—not trip you up with legal procedures.”

The police took the money in 2020 when they raided her apartment because they thought her boyfriend at the time was dealing drugs.

He was charged, and acquitted.

Crystal never was charged.

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Even so, “police took $8,040—which she was planning to use to buy a food truck—from her, through a process called civil forfeiture. They then transferred the money to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, where it’s been ever since,” the IJ said.

She worked on her own to reclaim her money, but tripped up by missing a single deadline, and a district judge said that cost her her money forever.

She than worked with the IJ to appeal.

The appeals court said, if anything, “civil forfeiture procedure magnifies the importance of deciding such cases on the merits rather than by default.”

Further, it noted the incentive for police. “The authorities can pocket what they can seize by forfeit.”

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