(Case No. P8346-01, Tennessee Department of Safety, Nashville, Administrative Judge Michael Begley)

Plaintiffs: Tennessee Department of Safety; Shelby County Sheriff’s Department

Defendants: Aditi Prabhakar

Aditi Prabhakar, a San Jose, California college student, has a bank account funded by family members that she uses to pay her tuition. She has never been to Tennessee and has no relatives here, nor was she ever charged with a crime. But on March 27, 2014, Shelby County sheriffs seized $19,060.60 from her California bank account under Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws.

The sheriff’s office alleged that two deposits placed into her account by an unknown person in Memphis were related to a drug scheme, though neither the person who made the deposits nor the sheriff’s office alleged that Aditi knew anything about any such activity. Indeed, when Aditi heard about these allegations, she said that if there was any chance that money in her account came from illegal activity and not her relatives, she wanted nothing to do with it. Aditi agreed to release the deposits in question to the sheriff’s department. However, the sheriff’s office refused, claiming it had a right to keep all of the money in the account, even though the remaining balance was clearly deposited by her family members in other states.

After Aditi’s attempts to resolve the issue with Shelby County detectives proved unsuccessful, she reached out to ACLU-TN for assistance. ACLU-TN agreed to represent her to protect her right to due process and to challenge law enforcement’s abuse of civil forfeiture laws. We filed a claim on Aditi’s behalf asking for a full hearing before an administrative law judge in the Department of Safety.

A week before the scheduled July 22, 2015 hearing, the sheriff agreed to Aditi’s long standing offer and returned the $12,060.60 wrongfully seized from her account.