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Tainted Currency and Asset Seizure and Forfeiture

Tainted Currency and Asset Seizure and Forfeiture

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A short legal memorandum discussing "tainted" currency and asset seizure and forfeiture in Texas.
A short legal memorandum discussing "tainted" currency and asset seizure and forfeiture in Texas.

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Published by: Charles B. "Brad" Frye on Mar 18, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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808 Travis, Suite 1101Houston, Texas 77002(713) 236-8700Fax: (713) 229- 8031
Tainted Currency and Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Issues
“I’m Not a Drug Dealer – Why Did the Police Seize My Money?”
Your college-age son calls from the airport in Austin. He had been attending school in Chicagoand had flown to Austin to see a young lady he met on the Internet. All he carried on the planewas a backpack, and, because he didn’t know when he might return to school – or visit you inHouston – he bought a one-way ticket. When he decided to return to Chicago, he approached theairline counter and, using his driver’s license with his “permanent” Houston address (your house,where he grew up), he asked for a one way ticket. He didn’t have a credit card (not after the stunthe pulled as a freshman, when you thought he could handle his own finances), so he paid in cash.All he carried was his backpack for the return trip.Before September 11
, he would have breezed through ticketing and security and would havebeen home in a few hours. But, this time, the airline ticket agent alerted the airport police andyour son was approached by them as he waited in the gate area.Your son had been profiled – single young male, address on identification didn’t match eitherdeparture or arrival city, paid for the ticket in cash, and had no luggage, only a backpack. So,whether he’s a suspected terrorist or drug dealer, the police wanted to “eyeball” him and ask hima few supposedly innocuous questions.After those questions, the police asked if he would mind if they searched his backpack. He’s agood kid, you taught him to respect law enforcement, and, he wasn’t a terrorist or a drug dealer.So, he said “yes.”The police found three thousand dollars in currency in his backpack. (Yes, he’s a saver all right.And, since he distrusted “plastic,” he carried his cash around with him, never letting thebackpack out of his sight.When the police asked him about the cash, he simply said it was his. He had saved it. Hethought it best to be simple and direct and just tell them what it was.The police, however, asked your son to accompany them to an interview room, “for just a fewmore questions.” He did, staring to feel increasing uncomfortable as he did so.In the interview room, the senior officer unpacked the backpack’s contents, including thecurrency, on the table. In a few moments, another officer, this one with a K-9 unit (which is “cop
speak” for “dog”), came into the room and the dog sniffed the property, including the currency,spread out on the table. After a few moments, the officer with the dog said “that’s it – themmoney.”The senior officer then asked your son more pointed questions – Did he deal drugs? Did heknow anyone he did? When was the last time he bought cocaine or marijuana? Your sonbecame increasingly nervous, which only made the officer press harder with the questions. Aftera few moments, your son asked, “Do I need a lawyer?” To which the officer replied, “I don’tknow. Do you think you need a lawyer? Have you done something wrong?”After a few more minutes, the officer gathered up the currency, placed it into another plastic bagwith a tag, and, after copying your son’s identification, told him he was free to go.Your son was free to go. But his money was staying. The officers had seized the currency andwould be forwarding their seizure affidavit to the district attorney’s office and a Notice of Seizure and a Petition would be filed in which the State would allege that the currency was“contraband” and subject to forfeiture under Chapter 59 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.A significant percentage of paper currency contains high traces of cocaine, and it is not necessaryfor the money to come into direct contact with the drug.One study found that paper currency in the United States contained an average of between 2.9and 28.8 micrograms of cocaine depending on the year and city, with a maximum of more than1,300 micrograms found on some 1996 bills. A gram of cocaine would fill about half a tea bag.A microgram is one-millionth of that amount.And, besides traces of narcotics, paper money is contaminated with other things, such as diseasecausing bacteria. One past study revealed ninety four percent (94%) of one dollar bills collectedfrom a community in western Ohio contained disease-causing or potentially disease-causingbacteria. The study, published in 2002 in the Southern Medical Journal, was led by Peter Ender,chief of infectious diseases at Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Ohio.Whether it’s contamination by narcotics or deadly bacteria, it’s not surprising since dollar bills inthe United States stay in circulation for an average of 21 months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, during which time they get handled by plenty of people. For larger bills,the life span is even longer, with twenty dollar bills lasting about 24 months and fifties staying incirculation for 55 months.So, during those time periods, who else has handled your money besides you and the bank cashier? If it was a drug dealer or user, then traces of narcotics will most likely remain on thecurrency. And, that could cause you a problem when the police call for the “drug sniffing” dogafter they find a large amount of currency in your vehicle, in your baggage, or in your pocket.Thankfully, appeals courts have held that possession of a large sum of money is not illegal in andof itself.

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