Stephen Lara was driving to California in February 2021 to visit his daughters when he was pulled over by law enforcement in Nevada. What ensued was nothing resembling a routine traffic stop and ended with the officers violating Lara’s property rights.
The officers seized Lara’s life savings, which amounted to $87,000, without charging him with a crime. They did so by declaring that it was likely being used for drug crimes and stole his money under civil asset forfeiture. Unfortunately for them, they picked the wrong person to target.
The incident began when the officers pulled Lara over, claiming he was driving too close to a truck.
This story is yet another showing how civil asset forfeiture, also known as “Policing for Profit,” is often abused by the state in order to collect funds. These laws were ostensibly intended to disrupt organized crime by targeting their assets. However, everyday citizens like Lara often find themselves caught up in these operations.
Civil asset forfeiture allows police officers to seize property or cash without so much as charging the individual with a crime. They simply have to “suspect” that the property or cash in question was tied to a crime – even without proving that a crime exists. In this way, local and state governments can raise revenue at the expense of citizens.
Even in cases where states have passed civil asset forfeiture reform laws, local and state law enforcement can exploit certain loopholes granted by the federal government through the Equitable Sharing program, which enables local and state governments to seize property or money and then give it to a federal law enforcement agency. The feds will then give 20 percent of what was seized to the lower levels of government. In this case, Nevada state police gave the money to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The profit motive provided by civil asset forfeiture laws has led to many innocent citizens losing their property and money. In many states, the process of retrieving what the government steals is cumbersome, requiring the support of expensive attorneys who can navigate the bureaucracy. This makes it exceedingly difficult to regain a victim’s belongings. Lara’s case further highlights this unjust and tyrannical practice. Now, he has become yet another voice speaking out against civil asset forfeiture.