A Minnesota couple is suing the Iowa City Police Department to return almost $50,000, arguing police wrongfully seized that cash. Kearnice Overton was driving with his four kids on I-80 when Iowa City police pulled him over for speeding. Police brought a K-9 unit and based on the dog giving a “silent indicator on the vehicle,” police searched Overton’s car. They found $48,000.
Drug sniffing dogs can have a very high false positive rate, i.e., they alert even when there are no drugs. Yet as the Institute for Justice demonstrated in an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court, “There are countless examples of police seizing large sums of cash based on nothing more than a positive dog alert.” Plus, in Iowa, law enforcement can keep 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property, creating an immense incentive to police for profit.
Overton denies the money he was carrying was the result of any illegal activity. Instead, he says he had the cash to buy property from his cousin in Illinois, but the sale fell through. “This money was wrongfully seized. I was not arrested, nor were any charges lodged against me in connection with this money. This money was in no way connected to any criminal activity,” Overton stated in a court document.
Iowa’s civil forfeiture laws make it difficult for innocent property owners to win in court, according to the Institute for Justice’s report, “Policing for Profit.” Owners have to prove their innocence to prevail. The government can forfeit property if it shows that it is linked to criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence. That is a much lower evidentiary standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used for criminal convictions.
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— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice