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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Presumption of Guilt

     Anastasio Prieto was driving his truck toward home along US Route 54, just north of El Paso, Texas on a late night in August 2007. While enjoying the beautiful countryside passing him by, he noticed a weigh station and pulled over to have his truck inspected. A state trooper approached him and asked whether he could search Anastasio's truck for contraband. Not protective of his own privacy, Anastasio said, "Of course," knowing  that no contraband would be found. During his conversation, Anastasio did mention that he happened to be carrying $23,700, his life savings, used to pay bills and maintain the truck, which he carried with him because he did not trust banks. What he did not realize was that his opinion of banks would be his undoing.

     The money was confiscated, and Anastasio was detained, photographed, and fingerprinted while canine dogs sniffed his truck. The state police, who believed that Anastasio must be guilty of something, turned the cash they seized from him over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Though no evidence of illegal substances was found, the DEA explained to Anastasio that they would be keeping the money, and that in thirty days he would receive notice of federal proceedings to forfeit the money permanently to the government. Anastasio was told that if he wanted to get the money back, he would have to petition a court and prove that the money was legally obtained by him and not the product of criminal conduct.

     That's right; even though not a single shred of evidence of any illegal activity was found in his truck, Anastasio was considered guilty and would have to prove his innocence. Thankfully, the ACLU stepped in and sued the DEA on behalf of Anastasio. With the lawsuit looming, and fearing a more public revelation of its Gestapo tactics at a trial, the DEA returned the money months later.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies the Government Tells You, 2010

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