Man Wins Return of Bail Money Seized by Police

November 14, 2000

Fred Lipke picked up $2000 from the City of Wayne Police Department today. A police officer had seized the money from Lipke this June when Lipke brought it to the police station to bail out a friend. The police officer, following department policy, took the bail money and showed it to drug-sniffing dogs. When the dogs "alerted" to the scent of drugs on the money, the officer seized it as the alleged proceeds of a drug sale under the state civil forfeiture law.

Lipke, who does not use drugs, was outraged and called the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.  The ACLU was able to successfully negotiate the return the $2000.

"The policy of seizing bail money based solely on a dog sniff is not only unconstitutional, but it is also unconscionable," said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the Michigan ACLU.  "The courts have stated that 70% to 90% of the currency in circulation today is contaminated by enough cocaine to alert a trained dog."

In one dramatic study, 11 prominent citizens, including Janet Reno and Jeb Bush, were asked to supply a $20 bill for drug testing.  Ten of the 11 bills were tainted by significant amounts of cocaine - including the bills supplied by Janet Reno, Jeb Bush and an archbishop.  (See Courts Reject Drug-Tainted Evidence, 79 A.B.A. J. 22 (Aug. 1993)).

"Numerous police agencies in Wayne County are seizing money, cars or other property based solely on dog sniffs," stated Cynthia Heenan, the ACLU cooperating attorney who represented Lipke.  "This illegal practice does nothing to stop the 'war on drugs,' but only serves to fill the coffers of the police.  Many people do not have the money to hire a lawyer to get their property back and in many cases the cost of hiring a lawyer would be more than the value of the property seized."

Fred Lipke stated, "I thought I was doing a good deed by getting out of bed in the middle of the night this summer to bail out a friend.  I was completely shocked when the police officer seized the bail money.  If not for the ACLU, the police would have gotten away with grand larceny."

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