Iowa State troopers can keep more than $30,000 in cash taken during a traffic stop, even though the owner was found not guilty, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled last week.
In June 2012, Robert Pardee was riding in a car through Powesheik County, Iowa on I-80, when an Iowa State trooper pulled the driver over for a non-working taillight and tailgating. During the stop, state troopers found “a small amount of marijuana” and $33,100 in cash. Pardee was arrested and charged with possessing cannabis. In Iowa, first-time offenders can face up to six months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
One year later, a district court found him not guilty. As the criminal case proceeded against Pardee, the state also filed a civil forfeiture case against his seized cash. Despite his acquittal, first the district court and then the Iowa Court of Appeals ordered Pardee to forfeit his cash to the state.
Unlike criminal forfeiture, which does require a conviction to take the ill-gotten gains from criminals, civil forfeiture lets law enforcement seize and keep property from people without a criminal conviction, or even without filing charges.
Since civil forfeiture cases proceed in civil court, the state has to meet a far lower burden of proof to win. While criminal cases require proving “beyond a reasonable doubt,” for civil forfeiture in Iowa, the government need only show by a “preponderance of the evidence,” or “more likely than not,” that property was used to help facilitate a crime or are the proceeds of crime.
In its ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals also approved police stopping out-of-state drivers, even if the basis for that stop was a pretext. The day of his search and seizure, Pardee was riding in a car with California license plates. According to a report by the Des Moines Register, Iowa State troopers issued almost as many traffic warnings and citations to cars with California license plates as they did to Iowa drivers. A later article reported that Poweshiek County, where Pardee was searched, “appears to be the most heavily ticketed county by the interdiction teams.”
Unless the Iowa Supreme Court agrees to hear Pardee’s case and rule in his favor, law enforcement will get to keep his cash. State law lets police and prosecutors keep what they take through civil forfeiture. Between just 2011 and 2013, interdiction teams for the Iowa State Patrol seized $7 million in cash.