A Nevadan couple is fighting back after law enforcement in Kansas seized $32,100 in cash. Back in March, Salvador Franco and his girlfriend, Liliana Ramirez, were driving along I-70 after having just decided not to buy a truck in cash. While stopped at a gas station, a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper confronted Franco for not having a front license plate, though that is not illegal in Kansas.
When Franco refused to consent to a search, the officer detained him and called for a drug dog, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot extend a routine traffic stop to bring a drug dog to the scene absent probable cause. When the dog alerted, police used that as justification to search the car. Inside, they found Franco’s cash, but no drugs or anything else illegal.
Nevertheless, troopers handcuffed the couple and brought them to the police station, where they were interrogated separately and threatened with 10 years in prison. Despite filing no criminal charges, Kansas police seized the cash.
“On that day my whole life changed,” Franco said. “I was robbed by our own police officers that are here to protect and serve us.”
Kansas law enforcement then worked with a federal prosecutor to forfeit the seized cash through the federal equitable sharing program. Under this program, state and local law enforcement agencies can partner with federal agencies, like the Drug Enforcement Administration, to forfeit seized property under federal law, and receive as much as 80 percent of the proceeds. According to the Institute for Justice’s report Policing for Profit, from 2000 to 2013, Kansas law enforcement received more than $50 million in federal forfeiture funds from the Justice Department, or over $3.7 million a year on average.
To help Franco reclaim his seized cash, DKT Liberty Project has hired David Smith. Smith, a former deputy chief at the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Office, said his client’s “individual freedom and civil liberties were violated.”
In response to widespread controversy, in 2015, the Department of Justice limited certain seizures under the equitable sharing program, including imposing guidelines on “joint investigations” like the one ostensibly involved here. Franco’s case shows how these policy changes are woefully insufficient to curb forfeiture abuse. Congress should abolish equitable sharing altogether. Short of that, Congress must pass legislative reform, such as the DUE PROCESS Act which would, at the very least, strengthen procedural protections for innocent property owners.