November 21, 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WAYNE, MI--A man who had $2,000 cash subjected to a dog-sniff test and seized by police when he came in to bail out a friend is finally getting his money back, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

Garden City resident Fred Lipke, 40, will appear at the Wayne Police Department at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to claim the $2,000 that was confiscated last June by City of Wayne police under the state civil forfeiture law.

"I thought I was doing a good deed and helping out a friend," said Lipke, who added that he does not use drugs. "But even though I didn't do anything wrong, it's taken months to prove my innocence and get my money back."

The ACLU said that numerous police agencies in Wayne County are seizing money, cars or other property based solely on dog sniffs, despite that, nationally, nearly 80 percent of the victims of forfeiture have never been indicted of a crime.

"What happened to Mr. Lipke could happen to anyone in Michigan, whether they are bailing out a relative or paying a parking fine in cash," said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the Michigan ACLU, noting that under state law police are allowed to keep whatever they seize.

"Seizing people's cash based solely on a dog sniff test is both unconstitutional and unfair," she added. "Studies show that 75 percent of the currency in circulation today is contaminated by enough cocaine to alert a trained dog."

In a 1993 study conducted by the Miami Herald, 10 out of 11 $20 bills supplied by prominent Florida citizens, including Janet Reno, Jeb Bush and an archbishop, were tested and found to be tainted with significant amounts of cocaine.

"Many people don't have the money to hire a lawyer and in many cases the cost of hiring a lawyer would be more than the value of the property seized," said Michael Steinberg, Legal Director of the Michigan ACLU. "But the ACLU is interested in hearing from anyone who thinks their bail money was seized based solely on a dog sniff."

Steinberg said the ACLU is considering filing a civil lawsuit against the City of Wayne Police Department in order to change the Department's forfeiture policy.

In April 2000, Congress completed legislation that makes it more difficult for federal prosecutors to seize homes, money, cars, boats and other property before bringing charges in criminal cases. But many local and federal reforms are still needed, the ACLU said.

 

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