The Rutherford Institute is fighting against “asset forfeiture,” a type of law that allows government officials to confiscate personal property.
In the case of James Leonard in April 2013, Leonard and his girlfriend were driving along a Texas highway reputed to be a “drug corridor.” Officers stopped his car, searched it, and found no evidence of a crime, but they found a safe in the trunk containing $201,000 in cash.
“The mother of the fellow was contacted and she said the money was from the sale of her home and he was bringing the money to her so she could buy the son a home,” John Whitehead, founder of The Rutherford Institute, explains. “There was even a bill of sale for the home in the safe.”
Regardless, police confiscated the mother’s money and kept it, even though no crime was committed. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal, thereby allowing the police to keep the cash.
In his written opinion denouncing the profit incentives that drive such schemes, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas cites several other similar incidents – citations that validate Whitehead’s argument that Leonard’s case isn’t an isolated incident.
“People are actually losing their homes, and then all the police have to do now is to accuse you of a crime, and they confiscate what you own,” Whitehead says. “You have to go to the court to get it back.”
The attorney says many people don’t have the funds to fight a court battle.
“I would say to most people, be very careful what you’re carrying in your cars,” he adds. “If you’re carrying any kind of cash, it can be confiscated. You don’t have to be doing anything wrong, and unfortunately we’re having to fight to reverse these laws and get rid of them.”
There’s no move in Congress to change the laws, so the fight will have to be in the courts and state legislatures.