In a rare win against civil forfeiture, a man who had over $1,000 seized by police last November won back his taken property. Last November, Raeqwon Hinton went to a club in Richmond, Virginia. His friend was feeling sick and decided to sleep in the car. But when Hinton was inside the club, he received a call from his friend, who said that police were searching the car.
When Hinton returned outside, police ultimately arrested him, seized $1,074 he was carrying in his pockets and charged him with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, a misdemeanor. A statement by the VCU Police Department said that during a search of the car, officers found a substance “believed to be marijuana. Officers conducted a field test of the substance and it tested positive for marijuana.”
“You know how they put the stuff on the car, show you what they found out your car? Never did that. Only thing they put in front of me was my money,” Hinton said. “They never put no weed or scale.”
Moreover, field tests “routinely produce false positives” and “could produce thousands of wrongful convictions,” according to a sweeping investigation by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica.
Hinton denied he was involved in the drug trade. Instead, he said that his money was from a paycheck from working at a Walmart distribution center. He even tried to show police his receipts.
“I had proof, and I showed him and everything and that’s why I’m really mad. I really work, and he really tried to say that was drug money,” Hinton said.
In April, prosecutors decided to drop the criminal charge, court records show. But the government still held onto Hinton’s cash. Fortunately, after WWBT covered his case, the VCU Police Department said that as of Monday, a court order would be available to return the cash back to Hinton.
A report by the Virginia State Crime Commission found that in 2014, out of over 1,100 cash seizures, owners only recovered their property or had the case dismissed in less than 14 percent of cases. Agencies also spent over $336,000 on salaries with drug forfeiture funds that year.
Under Virginia law, police and prosecutors can keep up to 100 percent of the property forfeited to the state. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, Virginia law enforcement agencies collected more than $34 million in state forfeiture funds from 2000 to 2014. Cash was the most commonly taken asset, accounting for 80 percent of total forfeitures.
Agencies generated even more revenue by cooperating with federal authorities and transferring seized property for litigation through federal forfeiture, in a process called ”equitable sharing.” Virginia law enforcement received more than $185 million in equitable-sharing funds from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Treasury Department.
Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed bills that raise the burden of proof in civil forfeiture cases and create new reporting requirements, but narrowly defeated a bill that would have required a criminal conviction to forfeit property.