“Police in Rochester, New York, seized $8,040 from Cristal Starling during a raid on her apartment in October 2020. Starling was never charged with a crime, but she may never see her money again due to missing a court deadline during the complicated process of challenging the seizure.
Starling’s apartment was one of two locations Rochester police hit while investigating her former boyfriend, who was suspected of dealing drugs. The police didn’t find any drugs in the apartment, but they did find and take Starling’s cash. Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity. (Starling’s ex-boyfriend was arrested for drugs found at a separate raid in the same investigation, but he was later acquitted.)
Starling, who runs a food cart and says she was saving up for a food truck, began trying to fight the seizure without a lawyer. She managed to get her seized car back, and she thought that, with no criminal charges pending in the case anymore, she would no doubt soon get her cash back, too.
Instead, she got a nasty surprise. The Rochester Police Department had sent her money to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and although she had filed a notice with the Justice Department that she was challenging the forfeiture, she had missed a deadline to do so in federal court, meaning the government could move to forfeit her money by default.
After a judge rejected Starling’s request for an extended deadline, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, announced this week that it will file an appeal on her behalf, arguing that people like Starling should have greater opportunity to challenge government seizures.”
“What Starling has learned the hard way is that asset forfeiture laws not only allow police to seize one’s property without an accompanying criminal charge, but that the process to challenge a seizure is tilted in favor of the government. It’s extremely hard for everyday people to navigate the labyrinthine process to get their money back without paying for an attorney, which in Starling’s case would have probably cost enough to make a victory in court negligible.”