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Trucker recovers nearly $40K in cash seized through civil forfeiture in Arizona in 2020

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A trucker finally recovered nearly $40,000 in cash that was seized from him as he was in the process of buying a new truck more than two years ago.

Arizona authorities have returned $39,500 in cash to trucker Jerry Johnson following a series of court battles, according to the non-profit civil liberties law firm Institute for Justice (IJ).

The ordeal began in August 2020 when Johnson flew to Phoenix to purchase a new truck for his company, which is based in North Carolina. While at the airport, authorities questioned Johnson, accused him of involvement in criminal activity, and seized the $39,500 in cash through civil forfeiture.

The Arizona Republic reports that Johnson said he was coerced by police into signing a waiver at the airport that indicated that the money was not his in order to avoid going to jail. Johnson told the outlet that he didn’t understand what he was signing.

According to IJ, “an Arizona trial court ruled that [Johnson] failed to prove the cash was his” and refused to return the money. IJ took over Johnson’s case, and in May 2022, the Arizona Court of Appeals sided with Johnson, finding that the trial court’s ruling violated Johnson’s right to due process.

While the cash was returned, IJ points out that the state paid less than 0.8% in accrued interest after moving to dismiss the case, but refused to pay his attorneys’ fees and interest at Arizona’s statutory rate for judgments. IJ says that it will continue to fight to get Johnson the money that they say he is owned by Arizona.

“Jerry’s case potently illustrates the injustice of civil forfeiture even when someone ultimately gets their property back,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dan Alban. “It took 31 months for Jerry to finally get his savings back even though he was never even charged with a crime. In the middle of the COVID pandemic, Jerry had to find a way to keep operating his small trucking business after its working capital was seized while also scraping together money to hire an attorney (before IJ took his case). We’re glad that the money has been returned, but Jerry still needs to be made whole.”

“It’s a blessing to finally have my savings back so that I can invest it in my business,” said Johnson. “That the government could take my money, never charge me with a crime but hold onto my savings for so long is outrageous. It created a tremendous financial burden for me and my family, and there were a lot of business opportunities I’ve missed out on because that money was just sitting in a government account.”

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