A Rochester woman recovers $8,000 seized by police after a long court battle


More than three years after Rochester police confiscated $8,040 from Crystal Starling, her money has been returned.

It took an indirect court battle, with a federal appeals court ruling keeping the case alive, but Starling kept fighting the whole time with the help of the nonprofit. Justice Institutea public interest law firm.

“A lot of people are afraid of the law because they don’t know their rights,” Starling, a Rochester resident, said this week. “They don’t educate themselves. They don’t do the research.

“Honestly, I’ve been saying this from the beginning. It’s not about me. It’s about other people and how these things can constantly affect people like me.”

In October 2020, Rochester police raided the West Main Street apartment of Starling and her then-boyfriend. No drugs were found, but police confiscated $8,040 in currency.

Crystal Starling

Crystal Starling

Her boyfriend was arrested based on drugs found elsewhere. He was acquitted, and Starling pushed for the return of the money, which she said was hers and had no connection to any illegal activity.

“I have nothing to hide,” Starling said. “I was ready for them to open up a whole camera of worms because I had nothing to hide.”

Few seek a cash return

According to lawyers at the Institute for Justice, many people who… Losing small amounts to civil forfeiture The police do not press to recover the money, even if there is clear evidence that the cash or other property is not related to the crime.

“I think the government knows that for many people who have had relatively small amounts confiscated, it is simply not worth seeking out lawyers,” said Paul Sherman, a senior lawyer at the institute.

“One of the things we see over and over again is that the government is happy to keep people’s money so they have lawyers.”

After her ex-boyfriend was acquitted, Starling sought to recover the money, but fell into what the institute’s lawyers say was an administrative maze. Although Congress has established laws to return funds in such cases, the process can be cumbersome and unreliable, institute lawyers say.

“This is a huge problem nationwide, not only is the government seizing a lot of money under civil forfeiture, but it is trying to evade the remedies that Congress wrote to protect victims of forfeiture abuse,” Sherman said.

He refused half the amount

Starling tried to get her money back through the Department of Justice and other channels, and was once told that half of her money could be returned to her. She took this as an admission that the money was hers and declined the offer.

“Their goal was to try to keep it even if they couldn’t keep it all,” Starling said.

A federal judge once ruled that Starling missed the deadline for requesting a refund — Starling said she was on vacation and didn’t get the letter with the information — but a federal appeals court overturned that decision last year.

This means Starling can argue in court for the first time why the money is legally hers. Instead of letting that argument go forward, the DEA, which had the money, recently decided to return the $8,040 to Starling.

If local or state police use the federal forfeiture process, by turning over currency or property to federal law enforcement, local or state agencies can make an 80% return. Some states, including New York, The institute’s lawyers say they have laws that provide fewer obstacles for people seeking to recover confiscated money or property.

Starling is now seeking interest and the institute is seeking legal fees. In court papers, attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office say there is no evidence they acted inappropriately and that the legal fees are not justified.

“I feel like this was the first step in doing what’s right,” Starling said of returning her money. “I feel like it shouldn’t take this long.

“And yet, I did.”

– Gary Craig is a veteran reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle, covering the courts, crime and more. You can contact Craig at gcraig@rocheste.gannett.com. He is the author of two books, including Seven Million: A Policeman, a Priest, an IRA Soldier, and the Unsolved Rochester Brink Heist.

This article originally appeared on the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Cristal Starling recovers $8K seized by police after court battle

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