A Routine Traffic Stop Nearly Cost This Couple $10,000
Posted on Sep 7, 2018 in Traffic
In a story that reads like part nightmare, part Super Troopers outtake, NOLA.com reports on a couple who had over $10,000 of casino winnings confiscated in a routine traffic stop in West Virginia.
Dimitrias Patlias and Tonya Smith were driving through West Virginia, on a casino tour of the area, when they were pulled over. According to the officer, Patlias had drifted out of his lane. The officer asked Patlias how much money he had on him, and Patlias declined to answer.
Soon, Patlias found himself in handcuffs, standing on the side of the road next to his wife as the police searched their vehicle. Patlias attempted to protest, claiming the police needed a warrant, but was apparently ignored.
By the time it was over, the police had confiscated over $10,000, a sizable number of casino gift cards and reward cards, and Patlias’s cellphone. Patlias and Smith claimed to have receipts for their cash winnings, and the gift cards were in their name or in the names of family members.
This did not seem to matter to the police. They warned Patlias about staying in his lane, and sent the couple on their way. No charges were filed against them.
So what exactly happened on the side of that road in West Virginia? Why did the police confiscate Patlias and Smith’s belongings if they weren’t being charged with anything? And were they within their legal rights to do so?
Legally speaking, in seizing Patlias and Smith’s possessions, the police claimed to be employing the law of civil forfeiture. This law allows police to confiscate property they suspect to be involved in or related to illegal activity.
The police claimed that the search and seizure was part of an attempted crackdown on drug trafficking in the area, so technically their actions were legal. Civil forfeiture is completely dependent upon the officer’s discretion—if they suspect you, they can take your things. The kicker is: no charges have to be filed.
Patlias, for his part, doesn’t seem to have done himself many favors. When it comes to traffic stops, the Golden Rule is a solid principle to abide by. The way you act and treat the officer can have a huge impact on how the interaction will proceed. Though you are always within your rights to refuse an officer’s request, noncompliance can give police a reason suspect you of a crime or antagonize you.
By initially refusing to answer the officer’s question of how much money he had in the vehicle, Patlias likely gave the officer—already allegedly on the lookout for drug trafficking—a reason to suspect him of criminal activity.
Navigating a traffic stop can be tricky, and as with Patlias, one misstep can have costly ramifications. For more tips and advice on how to get through a traffic stop, check out our blog What To Do When You Get Pulled Over.
All’s Well That Ends Well?
Not long after the ordeal, Patlias and Smith returned to their home in New Jersey. With a baby on the way, they were desperate to get their money back. Yet they would hear nothing from the police for months.
In order to get back any items confiscated via civil forfeiture, one must prove that they were not involved in criminal activity. However, all of their attempts to contact the West Virginia police about their property proved fruitless.
Only after hiring an attorney, speaking with a West Virginian councilman, and reaching out to local papers, were the couple finally contacted by the police and told they could come collect their possessions
Relieved to have the issue resolved, the couple still says they won’t be visiting West Virginia again anytime soon after how quickly their getaway turned to a nightmare. The drawn-out investigation was exasperated further by the fact that it took place so far from their home.
Finding oneself in legal trouble in another state can be a costly and confusing procedure. Laws often vary from state to state, and expenses pile up quickly if one is required to travel back for any legal proceedings or other matters.
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