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Drug busts and forfeiture

In an unusual moment of agreement between law enforcement and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), legislation pending in the Nebraska legislature that would amend the state's forfeiture law has received the approval of both groups.

Nebraska is unusual, in that the state's Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors can charge a person with a crime or subject them to civil forfeiture, but not both, as that would constitute double jeopardy, or being tried for the same crime twice.

Civil forfeiture has become a popular activity among law enforcement agencies in many states, as it allows "prosecution" against the item itself. In the case of seized cash, it leads to cases with odd names like United States v. $277,324. In most states, some police and other law enforcement have used it as a means to seize any amount of cash discovered during a traffic stop and have turned it into a funding source for their agencies.

Police have been found to stop vehicles and if they find cash, they will often allege that it is drug connected, but never formally charge the driver with any crime. The cost of the legal battle to recover the money is often far more than the driver can afford, and they are forced to abandon the money.

This has led to concerns regarding its abuse and is one reason the ACLU supports the proposed legislation, as it would require law enforcement to also bring a criminal prosecution in order for the forfeiture to be allowed.

Source:, "ACLU, AG's office agree revamp needed for Nebraska's asset forfeiture laws," ZACH PLUHACEK, February 19, 2016

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