Last week, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill that bans law enforcement from using roadside waivers to pressure motorists to give up their own hard-earned cash. During traffic stops, officers have badgered drivers into signing pre-written waivers that not only waive their rights to their property, but also waive their right to the limited protections offered by the state’s civil forfeiture laws.
Wyoming now joins Texas and Virginia in banning roadside waivers. Sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey, the bill, HB 61, passed the legislature with only two votes against it. HB 61 will take effect on July 1.
“Due process doesn’t happen on the side of a road and we’re pleased to see Wyoming ban this abusive tactic,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Dan Alban. “But the state’s civil forfeiture laws remained unchanged, and still need major reform. No one should lose their property without being convicted of a crime.”
The new law is a direct response to a case in which the Institute for Justice represented Wisconsin musician Phil Parhamovich, who had his entire life savings—$91,800—seized on I-80 near Cheyenne. In March 2017, Phil was pulled over by the Wyoming Highway Patrol for not wearing his seatbelt. During the stop, several law enforcement officers searched Phil’s minivan and found no drugs or anything illegal. But they did find his cash. Phil had spent years saving up that money and planned to use it as the down payment for a recording studio in Madison once used by Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.
After aggressively interrogating Phil, and while still on the side of the Interstate, officers pressured him to sign a waiver form “giving” them his money. Bizarrely, the waiver states:
I…the owner of the property or currency described below, desire to give this property or currency, along with any and all interests and ownership that I may have in it, to the State of Wyoming, Division of Criminal Investigation, to be used for narcotics law enforcement purposes.
“Civil forfeiture is little more than legal highway robbery,” said IJ attorney Anya Bidwell. “What happened to Phil should never happen to anyone else.”
Aside from a $25 ticket for not wearing his seatbelt, Phil was never charged with any crime. Phil spent months trying to recover his cash. Last year, Phil teamed up with the Institute for Justice to get back his life savings. Just hours after his case went public, a Wyoming judge ordered the state to return all of Phil’s money.
“It’s a great relief to know that no one will have to go through what I went through,” Phil said. “Obviously our police system is in need of many reforms but this is a step in the right direction.”