Iowa Disbands Forfeiture Team; Settles Lawsuit from Poker Players

Back in 2014 I mentioned (in passing) that two poker players had $100,000 seized while simply driving across Iowa on their way home to California. The Iowa Department of Public Safety (the state highway patrol) had a dedicated team on Interstate 80 assigned to seize money from motorists. What were signs of suspicious activity? They included:

– Driving too fast
– Driving too slow
– Driving the speed limit

A better question would have been, “What wasn’t a sign of suspicious activity?”

I am not a fan of civil forfeiture. It’s too easy for it to turn into a funding source for police agencies. The idea of civil forfeiture is to act as a deterrent, not to fund the government. That wasn’t the case in Iowa.

However, that’s in the past. Twin announcements out of Iowa are very good news on the civil forfeiture front. First, the two poker players who had their funds seized had filed a lawsuit alleging their civil rights were violated. Iowa has agreed to settle the lawsuit brought by William (Bart) Davis and John Newmer­zhycky for $60,000. (Iowa had earlier returned $90,000 of the cash that had been seized from the players.)

The second announcement is, in the long-run, more meaningful: Iowa is disbanding its state forfeiture team. The officers have been reassigned to traffic safety and special events. As the Institute for Justice reported,

“Today’s decision is an important step to protect Iowans’ property and due process rights from forfeiture abuse, but the state must do more,” noted Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice.

Unfortunately, Iowa still has civil forfeiture laws on the books. Perhaps this settlement and the change in Iowa policy will cause Iowa legislators to end civil forfeiture in the Hawkeye state.


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