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Remembers when drug stops were about money

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I read a story last week that could shed some light on meth use in this country.

I think we are all aware of the civil asset forfeiture law that legislatures passed about 1987, whereby assets gained from criminal activities could be seized.

The original law was a good law.

Only after someone was charged, tried and convicted were their assets forfeited. For some reason our legislature amended the law in 1995, watering down the rules for seizure to the point where it was left up to the discretion of the police officer if the assets might have been gained illegally, and they didn’t even have to charge anyone with a crime.

That police department gets to keep 100 percent of the seized assets and is not required to keep a record of the seized property or how it it was disposed of. (What were those legislators thinking?)

Like Tennessee’s nationwide notoriety for speed traps in the 1980s, Tennessee police became known throughout the nation for their abuse of the asset forfeiture law.

Nashville’s Channel 5 News did a two-year investigation into police abuse of this law, calling it “policing for profit.

The station concluded police knew that most of the drugs (including meth) came in from Mexico. Channel 5’s evidence indicated that police would let the drugs get into the cities and be sold and then would set up on the westbound lanes of the interstate making traffic stops, trying to get these dealer’s money on their way back to Mexico.

(Thinking back on it, all the county cars I saw making traffic stops on the interstate were on the westbound lanes.)

Many innocent people were caught up in these stops, and their money was seized.

lt was up to the discretion of the policeman to determine if it was more money than a normal person would carry.

Once their money was seized, it was very difficult to get it back. It might be months before the victim could see a judge, and often the cost of a lawyer was more than the assets they had lost.

These victoms themselves were presumed guilty and had to prove to a judge that they are not criminals and their money was not ill-gotten.
The police were especially fond of out-of-state stops. The victims were less likely to come back to this state and fight for their assets.

Only after Channel 5 News’ story aired for the public to view (around Nashville anyway) did legislators again write a new bill (HB 1078) that passed into law this year making it more difficult to seize and keep assets.
It’s scary to think that our elected, educated legislature (many of whom are lawyers) could not foresee the abuse of their watered-down law, but it’s even more scary to think that they could foresee it and did it anyway.

If you are an honest person traveling in this state, maybe looking to buy a car from Craig’s List, an old farmer that just sold a bunch of cows, maybe people going on vacation, and like to deal in cash, you still might want to rethink the cash part.

Hopefully we’ll see more of those interstate traffic stops in the eastbound lane.

Norman Campbell
Kingston