Iowa State troopers can keep more than $30,000 in cash taken during a traffic stop, even though the owner was found not guilty, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled last week.

In June 2012, Robert Pardee was riding in a car through Powesheik County, Iowa on I-80, when an Iowa State trooper pulled the driver over for a non-working taillight and tailgating. During the stop, state troopers found “a small amount of marijuana” and $33,100 in cash. Pardee was arrested and charged with possessing cannabis. In Iowa, first-time offenders can face up to six months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.

One year later, a district court found him not guilty. As the criminal case proceeded against Pardee, the state also filed a civil forfeiture case against his seized cash. Despite his acquittal, first the district court and then the Iowa Court of Appeals ordered Pardee to forfeit his cash to the state.

Unlike criminal forfeiture, which does require a conviction to take the ill-gotten gains from criminals, civil forfeiture lets law enforcement seize and keep property from people without a criminal conviction, or even without filing charges.

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