Apparently, in the state of Tennessee it’s perfectly legal to commit what’s known as highway robbery. However, if you expect such acts to the the undertaking of the obvious shady criminal element riding a horse and dressed in black as were the bad guys of the wild west, you’re sorely mistaken. Unlike the days of old, today’s highway robber doesn’t ride a horse, nor is he dressed in black. In fact, comfort aside, it’s somewhat shocking to find out that today’s highway robbers, are people actually sworn to uphold and enforce the law here in the Volunteer State. And according to a month-long investigative report compiled by Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 about one year ago, it would seem that this has become an all too common practice:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A major NewsChannel 5 investigation has uncovered serious questions about Tennessee’s war on drugs. Among the questions: are some police agencies more concerned about making money off the drugs, than stopping them?
At the center of this months-long investigation are laws that let officers pull driver over looking for cash. Those officers do not even have to file criminal charges against a person to take his/her money.
It turns out, those kind of stops are now happening almost every day in Middle Tennessee.
Speaking to then District Attorney General Kim Helper about these stops and seizures in her jurisdiction, when asked if it was a way to make money, she responded, “Well, you know, when you say ‘make money,’ I guess it is a way for us to continue to fund our operations so that we can put an end to drug trafficking and the drug trade within this district.” So how are police officers able to trample one’s 4th Amendment right as it relates to search and seizures? Easy. Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” the state allows police to seize money simply based on the suspicion that it’s linked to drug trafficking. The troubling part about the application of said practice, is that even without an arrest, an individuals money can be seized.
I guess this gives credence to the notion that money has no owners, just spenders.
In 2010 report, Tennessee received a D-minus from the Washington-based Institute for Justice, on the state’s “civil forfeiture laws,” which makes the practice all legal. As pervasive as the practice, per the law, money can be seized just on reasonable and unreasonable suspicion of money “found” in traffic stops being linked to drug trafficking. As you can imagine, this has given police officers on patrol the incentive to become state sanctioned pirates as they target out-of-town tagged vehicles along the I-40 east-west corridor, in what’s iknown as “Policing For Profit“.
According to the the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Blog:
In Tennessee, the police can seize your car, take your money, take your personal property, take your home, sell these items and use the proceeds of that sale for their benefit without the person being found guilty of a crime. In fact, the police can seize and sell these items without even charging the owner with a crime. And worst of all, the laws in Tennessee promote this activity.
[...] So why do the police do this? Money, Money, Money. The State of Tennessee receives millions and millions of dollars each year from civil asset forfeiture. They are among the highest in the country on the percentage of proceeds that go to law enforcement. And while some states use this money for education and public works, Tennessee allows local law enforcement to spend this money on drug enforcement. If the local police did not need any more incentive, the local law enforcement agencies receive 100% of proceeds for their respective agency. They cannot spend it on their salaries, but they do spend it on their agency which continues to operate in large part due to the millions of dollars they bring in each year.
[...] Further proof that the police activity is based on the money, sources reveal that the police on Interstate 40 are pulling over vehicles on the westbound lane of the interstate at a much higher rate than on the eastbound lanes. This is because they believe that drugs go east and money goes west. So they are clearly following the money and not the drugs. Again, the police agency that seized the property keeps 100% of the proceeds!
It’s too bad that unsuspecting drivers from out-of-state like New Jersey’s George Reby, aren’t aware of this practice. As a matter of fact, up until I read Reby’s story, I myself as a state resident, was not aware of the practice; heck, and to think I’ve been living here for the past six years. However, I’d like to think that if Reby were in the know, he would not have been as trusting of Monteray PD Officer Larry Bates, with whom he had a chance meeting last January when stopped for speeding en route to Nashville on I-40, on a business trip.
Check out the following via, Nashville’s NewsChannel 5:
But then again, maybe that’s just my “Liberal bias” creeping out as always. As pervasive and egregious this practice may sound, it is perfectly legal. aside from that, the main thing that keeps the practice alive and successful, is the ignorance of everyday citizens to their legal rights as afforded by the constitution. Police officers like Larry Bates above, count on us being ignorant about our 4th Amendment & 5th Amendment protections per the U.S. Constitution. I suggest you become aware of the fact that you do have the right to refuse to talk to the police without an attorney present, as well as the right to refuse or consent to a search of your property and person by the police without a proper warrant. Too often, not knowing your rights can become a hassle, and quite costly; but, like the old saying: knowing is half the battle.
QUESTION: Should law enforcement be allowed to carry out this practice?