In February of 2014, college student Charles Clarke was boarding a flight to return to Orlando, Florida after visiting his relatives in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. With him he had $11,000 in cash — his entire life savings. Carrying $11,000 in cash with you is undoubtedly stupid, but by no means illegal… Not yet, anyway.
Clarke also admits to being a pot smoker, but denies being a dealer of any kind. In any case, airport police said they smelled weed on his luggage and cash. So they took his cash. Now, more than a year later, Clarke is still fighting to get his money back.
He now has help from the Institute of Justice, a public interest law firm, but it may not matter. If the case goes to trial, all the prosecution has to do is show by a preponderance of the evidence that the money had something to do with marijuana, whether from selling marijuana or maybe intended for the purchase of some marijuana. In other words, Clarke and his lawyer have to prove that the money had nothing to do with weed.
"Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement officials to keep the money they seize, which encourages them to target ordinary citizens like Charles," said Renée Flaherty, a lawyer with the Institute of Justice. “Police and prosecutors cannot treat citizens like ATMs.”
And yet they do. We see it time and time again. And how do you prove whether a cop smelled weed or not? That’s the beauty of the entire scam. It’s your word against the cop’s, which means they win and they keep your money and/or property.
Unfortunately Clarke will probably never see his $11,000 again. But at least his story can serve as another warning to those out there to be careful. Carrying cash in large amounts makes you suspect in the eyes of law enforcement, no matter why you have the cash.