What Can You Do When the Cops Take Your Money and Won’t Give It Back?

Under New York City's opaque and arbitrary civil forfeiture system, seizing money from a woman not accused of a crime is a perfectly legal thing to do.

News Story (New York)

Jake Offenhartz
September 29, 2016

Tags: Civil Asset Forfeiture

Organizations mentioned/involved: Bronx Defenders, Legal Aid Society (New York City)


The first rule of civil forfeiture is that you don’t need to be convicted or even charged with a crime to have your stuff seized. Since these are civil cases, you’re also not entitled to a lawyer if you can’t afford one. And if the police claim your possessions are related to a crime, the burden of proof is on you to prove otherwise. In New York, even if the money or property is eventually deemed innocent, you’re on your own navigating the city’s property retrieval apparatus, which is governed by rules so convoluted that even experts struggle to understand it—the Legal Aid Society describes it as a “confusing patchwork of omissions and misleading and overruled provisions.” According to Kenneth Crouch, a legal advocate with the Bronx Defenders, the vast majority of claimants simply give up on their possessions.

“It’s one thing for people to go through a byzantine process to get their property back,” Crouch told VICE. “It’s another thing for people to get discouraged and not even attempt to get their property back. And the vast majority of claimants get discouraged, for whatever reason, and don’t get their stuff.”