Heading to California through Fort Lauderdale International Airport?

You’d better hope that you don’t smell like cannabis to Broward County sheriffs. That’s the excuse that they’ve used to search the belongings of people heading out of the airport to California and to seize their cash under civil forfeiture laws. Investigative journalists, looking into allegations that Broward County officers are using civil asset forfeiture laws to pad their budget, have identified 19 people who suffered the loss of their possessions after being informally accused of drug trafficking.

Civil asset forfeiture allows the police to punish you for a drug crime you aren’t even formally charged with committing. If you’re suspected of drug trafficking, the thinnest evidence standards allow police to seize any cash or valuables you have on you to deprive you of funds to facilitate the trafficking or profits from trafficking.

In the cases explored by the investigation, all of the people targeted as likely “drug traffickers” were purchasing one-way tickets to California (where recreational marijuana is legal). In all cases, the police maintained that their K-9 unit detected the odor of cannabis on the person’s belongings and that the person acted guilty, nervous, evasive or was untruthful when questioned. In the cases mentioned above, no one was ever charged with drug trafficking — but their money was taken just the same.

Police may also be using their position to intimidate people into giving up their cash without a fight. If someone will take your possessions on a whim with no real evidence you’ve committed a crime, what will stop them from further abusing their power and charging you with a drug crime for no reason?

There are plenty of police and prosecutorial overreaches that needlessly put people in danger of losing their freedom as well as their possessions. Don’t let the police use your fear against you. If you’re stopped and questioned by the police or charged with a drug offense, contact a defense attorney promptly to best protect your interests.

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