Dimitrios Patlias and Tonya Smith were on their way to a casino in West Virginia when they were pulled over by a state trooper for making an illegal lane change.
During the stop, the cop discovered the couple had more than $10,000 in cash as well as several $100 gift cards to use in the casino.
That was when he began accusing them of all kinds of things like smuggling cigarettes, transporting drugs and gift card fraud without a shred of evidence.
He ultimately let them go with a warning for the improper lane change, but not before seizing $10,478 in cash along with the gift cards as well as a smartphone.
The couple ended up driving back to New Jersey with two dollars to their name.
The seizure was legal under the civil asset forfeiture law which allows cops to seize cash and personal property from citizens without due process or probable cause that they were committing a crime.
But it's really nothing more than highway robbery considering police use this money to buy more weapons and cars that can be used to shake more citizens down to further their riches.
The seizure was part of a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, where law enforcement officers have the right to lay claim to property they argue was used in the commission of certain crimes.
Under the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act, once property is seized by an officer, authorities can file a motion in civil court — separate from criminal proceedings — to claim the property via forfeiture.
The unusual nature of the proceedings leads to some strange case titles. For instance, in Morgan County, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Raymond Boyce initiated one case in circuit court, naming a Hyundai Elantra, an ignition key, a cell phone, a digital scale, and $523 in U.S. currency as respondents.
In that case, the court granted the forfeiture. The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department received 90 percent of proceeds, and the prosecutor’s office received the other 10 percent, as per state code.
Once a prosecutor initiates a forfeiture proceeding, the person whose property was seized will likely need legal aid to file motions in response to reclaim their property, where the cost of a lawyer often outweighs the value of the goods seized. Upon 30 days of inaction after the prosecutor’s motion, the property is forfeited to the state by default.
Even if suspects are acquitted of the charges filed against them, they still need to go through the civil procedure to reclaim their property.
The incident took place on June 9 and it took several weeks of calling the police department, the prosecutor's office and local politicians before their money and possessions were returned last Thursday.
Last year, shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump met with high-ranking law enforcement officers where he agreed with them that civil asset forfeiture is a good thing as you can see in the above video.