Suspect must pay $175 to get back $171 seized by cops

Associated Press

Trenton, N.J. — A man who was arrested on drug charges with $171 in his pocket has been told he’ll have to pay a $175 filing fee to try to get the money back.

The Hudson County prosecutor’s office included Jermaine Mitchell in a civil action against 21 defendants charged with similar crimes to go after the money through civil forfeiture, reported. Prosecutors have said the money was either the proceeds of a criminal enterprise or would soon be used in one.

But the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Mitchell, said the only thing most of those people have in common is that prosecutors are going after their money.

“They don’t allege conspiracy against most of these defendants,” Rebecca Livengood, an attorney at the ACLU, said of the county prosecutors. “It’s certainly not that all the defendants are part of a common scheme.”

The ACLU also claimed county authorities do this regularly, seizing money and assets from nearly 500 defendants so far this year. It has clustered them into less than 30 civil actions and nearly half of the defendants had less than $175 taken from them.

Last month, a judge ruled the case against Mitchell and the others could move forward because it concerned “a common question of law.” The ACLU appealed that ruling Thursday, arguing the judge had misinterpreted the statute.

County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said her office is “acting properly” by pursing assets from multiple defendants at a time.