(Memphis) The belief that we’re all innocent until proven guilty is the foundation of our legal system.
However, some people are losing big even before anyone has proven they’ve broken the law.
Narcotics officers say Interstate 40 is a major thoroughfare for drug traffickers.
When cops search for drugs they also look for money.
The two go hand in hand.
“It’s not illegal to carry cash. It is illegal to carry drug funds,” said prosecutor Joe Bartlett, TN Highway Patrol.
The law says if police find drugs and cash, they can seize your money.
But the On Your Side Investigators found police sometimes seize the cash, even if drugs aren’t found, and a crime can’t be proven.
Take the case of Velma Booker.
“This opens dangerous floodgates. This is a dangerous precedent,” said Attorney Taurus Bailey, Booker’s lawyer.
Bailey represented Booker, the owner of the Ice Cream Queen and several other small businesses in Frayser.
She was arrested years ago on a felony drug charge and served time, but was released in 2005 and Bailey said she’s been a law-abiding citizen since.
When officers stopped her on a traffic violation in February 2009, they said they found $32,000 in cash inside her car.
They seized the money, even though no drugs were found.
“That cash had come from her taking the cash out of her bank. She had copies and records of her bank statements,” said Bailey.
Memphis Organized crime officers stormed William Davis’ home and also took cash but no one was taken to jail.
“It’s kind of like legal armed robbery they come in with guns drawn and they take what you got,” said Davis.
When officers went into Davis’ home they reportedly found 125 grams of marijuana and $1,800.
They didn’t take anyone to jail, but they did take the money.
His wife, Lindsay, said the money was hers.
It was February 24th and she’d just gotten her refund from the IRS that day.
“I’ve got a 6-year-old at home. A new baby on the way. I’ve worked at the same job for the last three years. That’s my money,” said Lindsay Davis, wife.
People like Davis and Booker can fight to get their money back, but that can take years.
Often, the state offers to strike a bargain.
The catch is, the offer is usually a fraction of what was seized.
Still, most folks take the deal.
“There are innocent people out there and my experience here and I can only base it on my experience, is that it’s less likely that the average person is carrying $30,000 in a paper bag in the back of their car wrapped in multicolored rubber bands is totally innocent than not,” said Bartlett.
Bailey disputes that, “It leaves the burden on the person who owns the property to prove that they’re not committing a crime. That’s not the kind of country we live in. This is not 16th Century England.”
Bailey’s client won her case and a judge reimbursed her $32,000.
Lindsay Davis is still fighting, “That was money. I worked for 5 to 6 days a week, very hard for.”
She added, “I understand they have a job to do, but when you take somebody’s personal belongings but nobody goes to jail. That’s saying that there really wasn’t a whole lot wrong in that picture so why are you taking my stuff.”
The criminal case to prove there were drugs in the Davis’ household is still pending, but MPD organized crime officers have offered a settlement of $180.
That is 10% of the $1,800 dollars seized.
The Davis’ said no deal and are taking the matter to court.