In October 2020, Rochester police raided the West Main Street apartment of Cristal Starling and her then-boyfriend, who was suspected of dealing drugs.
No drugs were found, but police seized $8,040 in currency that Starling says was hers. Her boyfriend was arrested based on drugs found at another home, but he was later acquitted of the charges.
Starling has been trying to get her money back since the acquittal. She’s still trying.
The nonprofit Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, plans an appeal to a federal court, seeking to reverse a judge’s decision that federal and local police can keep Starling’s money. Starling’s case, Institute attorneys say, is typical of many forfeiture cases in the country: The money is not an overwhelming amount and the administrative process so convoluted that people who lose their money simply give up.
“This is very common where it’s a small amount of money,” said Institute attorney Seth Young. “You don’t hire a lawyer and the maze of forfeiture procedures trips up a person who represents themselves and the person ends up losing their money.”
Starling tried, without the aid of a lawyer, to chase down her seized money. She also lost use of two cars, which were also taken then later returned. She had to pay for a rental car during those weeks, she said.