Can the police seize my cash and keep it even if I didn’t break the law?
There is nothing illegal about carrying cash, even in large amounts. Whether a person likes to keep his cash close at hand, is buying a car with cash, or is heading back from a winning Vegas trip, simply having cash is not a crime.
Nevertheless, police patrol the highways looking for cars with drugs or cash. Police assume that a large amount of cash means that drugs are somehow involved. Police often seize the cash even when the there is no hard evidence of a connection to drug trafficking. The driver and passengers get a receipt for the cash that was seized and are sent on their way, usually without any criminal charges. Police usually demand that the driver and passengers sign a form declaring it is not their money. Even if the form was signed, do not give up. We have successfully challenged multiple forfeiture actions when the form was signed.
It does not take a lot for police to think they can lawfully seize cash. The following is typical: Police pull over a car with out-of-state license plates. The officer asks questions designed to get inconsistent statements about travel plans. The officer stands close enough to say he can see signs of extreme nervousness. He then asks if the vehicle contains any drugs, weapons, or cash. Regardless of the answer, he will ask for consent to search. Even if the driver says no, the officer may claim that he can lawfully search the car based on his observations. If he finds a significant amount of cash, he will likely claim that it is linked to drug trafficking and seize it.
Cash seizure and forfeiture is big business for Kansas police. If you think cash was wrongfully taken from you, you have the right to challenge the seizure and forfeiture. If a judge says that the police seized the money in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, the money must be returned. If police cannot prove that the money is proceeds from a drug sale, or was going to be used to buy drugs, the money must be returned.