Under Asset Forfeiture Law, Wisconsin Cops Confiscate Families' Bail Money
On Feb. 29, a judge set Greer's bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. "The police specifically told us to bring cash," Greer says. "Not a cashier's check or a credit card. They said cash."
So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she'd be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.
Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers' cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills -- and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money.
"I told them the money had just come from the bank," Beverly Greer says. "We had just taken it out. If the money had drugs on it, then they should go seize all the money at the bank, too. I just don't understand how they could do that."
The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it. It's a policy critics say is often abused, but experts told The HuffPost that the way the law is applied to bail money in Brown County is exceptionally unfair.
It took four months for Beverly Greer to get her family's money back, and then only after attorney Andy Williams agreed to take their case. "The family produced the ATM receipts proving that had recently withdrawn the money," Williams says. "Beverly Greer had documentation for her disability check and her tax return. Even then, the police tried to keep their money."
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Civil asset forfeiture is based on the premise that a piece of property -- a car, a pile of cash, a house -- can be guilty of a crime. Laws vary from state to state, but generally, law enforcement officials can seize property if they can show any connection between the property and illegal activity. It is then up to the owner of the property to prove in court that he owns it or earned it legitimately. It doesn't require a property owner to actually be convicted of a crime. In fact, most people who lose property to civil asset forfeiture are never charged.