Archive for the ‘Civil asset forfeiture’ Category

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Asset forfeiture 101

February 13, 2017

Frankly, it’s a little disappointing that Trump wants to wind back the clock on asset forfeiture. It would be disappointing to hear this from anyone, of course, but it’s worse because Trump has a bully pulpit these days.

Several states have banned the practice in the last year or two and the Institute for Justice has been waging war on it for quite a few years now – with some success. Check out their Policing for Profit page.

In the meanwhile, the folks at Reason are keeping the banner high.

I’m not wishing misfortune on anyone, but maybe if one of Trump’s family members or close friends had been a victim of civil asset forfeiture then he might have a different view of what often comes down to highway robbery.

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The State is not your friend (2)

December 7, 2016

This interesting article at The Economist comes via Paul B. Everyone knew that travelers’ luggage was being searched, but who knew there was an DEA-funded incentive program?

This stuff won’t stop until the legal theft we call civil asset forfeiture is outlawed and we put an end to the War on Drugs.

Transport employees in America were secretly paid by the government to search travellers’ bags

THERE are many reasons why you might have been stopped at an American transport hub and your bag searched by officials. You might have be chosen at random. Perhaps you matched a profile. Or you could have been flagged by an airline, railroad or security employee who was being secretly paid by the government as a confidential informant to uncover evidence of drug smuggling.

A committee of Congress heard remarkable testimony last week about a long-running programme by the Drug Enforcement Administration. For years, officials from the Department of Justice testified, the DEA has paid millions of dollars to a variety of confidential sources to provide tips on travellers who may be transporting drugs or large sums of money. Those sources include staff at airlines, Amtrak, parcel services and even the Transportation Safety Administration.

The testimony follows a report by the Justice Department that uncovered the DEA programme and detailed its many potential violations. According to that report, airline employees and other informers had an incentive to search more travellers’ bags, since they received payment whenever their actions resulted in DEA seizures of cash or contraband. The best-compensated of these appears to have been a parcel company employee who received more than $1m from the DEA over five years. One airline worker, meanwhile, received $617,676 from 2012 to 2015 for tips that led to confiscations. But the DEA itself profited much more from the programme. That well-paid informant got only about 12% of the amount the agency seized as a result of the his tips. […]

DEA delenda est

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It’s about damn time!

May 20, 2016

Let’s hope the congressmens’ bill actually does something about this problem. Something like requiring a conviction before forfeiture would be a good start but it doesn’t look like this bill does that. (I’ve only read Issa’s press release, not the bill itself.)

Rep. Issa, Colleagues Introduce Bill To Rein In Civil Forfeiture Abuse

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and 12 of his colleagues introduced legislation to rein in civil forfeiture abuse, signing on as an original cosponsor of the DUE PROCESS Act of 2016. The bill makes several important changes to the nation’s federal civil forfeiture program to help curb recent abuses and prevent Americans from having their property taken away by law enforcement without due process. […]

As a reminder of just how much asset forfeiture has in common with highway robbery, this example is just about perfect. (My emphasis below.)

Arkansas Trooper Steals $20,000, Because Nobody Innocent Carries That Much Cash
Prosecutors tried to drop the forfeiture case, but the judge would not let them.

The story of how cops stole $20,000 from Guillermo Espinoza, a construction worker with no criminal record, is sadly familiar in most respects: In July 2013, while driving through Arkansas on his way to Texas, Espinoza was pulled over by a state trooper who discovered a large amount of cash in the car, which he viewed as inherently suspicious. The money was seized and eventually forfeited based on vague allegations of drug-related activity. But there’s a twist: There was so little evidence of such activity that local prosecutors decided to drop the forfeiture case. The judge would not let them, and last week a state appeals court declined to review that astounding decision because Espinoza had missed a filing deadline.

It’s not clear why Arkansas State Police Sgt. Dennis Overton decided to stop Espinoza, who was traveling with his girlfriend, Priscila Hernandez. The legal justification for pulling Espinoza over was missing from the state’s September 2013 forfeiture complaint, which referred without explanation to “the traffic stop,” and from Circuit Court Judge Chris Williams’ September 2014 order authorizing permanent confiscation of the money, which said only that the stop was “proper.” In his response to the forfeiture complaint, Espinoza argued that the stop was illegal, so it would be nice to know what the rationale for it was. […]

After the stop, Judge Williams said, a “State of Arkansas drug dog was transported to the site in order to conduct a search of the vehicle.” […] But according to Williams, “It is obvious from the tape [of the traffic stop] that the dog did not alert on the vehicle at the scene of the stop.”

Undeterred, Overton asked for permission to search the car, which Espinoza supposedly granted — a pretty suspicious sequence of events. Why bother bringing in a drug dog to justify searching a car if the driver is willing to give his consent? In any case, Williams said, “the dog alerted on a computer bag,” inside which Overton found $19,894 in cash, mostly wrapped in $1,000 bundles. Overton found no contraband, drug paraphernalia, or any other sign of illegal activity. But as far as he was concerned, the cash itself was conclusive evidence that Espinoza was involved in drug trafficking.

“I’ve worked this interstate for the last eight years,” Overton told Espinoza, according to the transcript of the dashcam video, which Williams appended to his order. “Half of my career I’ve spent out here. OK? Nobody — nobody — carries their money like that but one person. OK? People that deal with drugs, and deliver drugs. That’s it. Nobody else. Nobody.” In other words, Overton always treats people who carry large amounts of cash as criminals, which proves that only criminals carry large amounts of cash. […]

Read the whole thing: it’ll make yer blood boil.

I guess the big difference between cops and highwaymen is that cops and judges are more orderly. The cops don’t (generally) approach you with weapons already drawn (I gather). And then when you get to court, you can count on the court minding its p’s & q’s about procedures and deadlines — the justice of the ruling being a minor consideration.

But at least it’s all done in a nice, orderly way.

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It can’t all be bad news, right?

April 22, 2016

I came across a couple of encouraging news items recently. First (via Reason), this news from Florida about a new law governing civil asset forfeiture. (My emphasis below.)

RICK SCOTT SIGNS 14 MORE BILLS INTO LAW

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law another 14 bills from the 2016 Legislative Session. […]

The latest bills include SB 1044, under which law enforcement will have to charge people with a crime before they can seize their money, cars, homes or other property.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored the measure, which was supported from both sides of the political spectrum.

It’s designed to prevent abuses of the current law, which doesn’t require an arrest before property is seized, but rather law enforcement’s belief that it was likely used in a crime.

“Today is a major win for liberty in the Sunshine State,” Brandes wrote on his Facebook page Friday.

He credited help from fellow Sens. Aaron Bean and Jeff Clemens, and state Reps. Matt Caldwell and Larry Metz, “as well as the wide range of stakeholders from our law enforcement community to civil libertarian organizations.” […]

Now there’s a thought: make the cops stand up in front of God ‘n’ ever’body and charge some people with some crimes if they think crimes were committed.

Amen, Sen. Brandes. It’s a major win indeed. Thank you, Florida! I hope the other states take a lesson.

But, wait, there’s more! And mirabile dictu, it gets even better. The BBC had an article about the State’s Attorney in St. Clair Co., Illinois (which is the next county east of mine).

Could ‘actual innocence’ save the broken US justice system?

In St Clair County, Illinois, the local prosecutor is trying a radical new experiment: admitting his office has charged innocent people with crimes and clearing their names before they spend a day in prison. It’s a unique reform effort as prosecutors around the country face increased scrutiny and diminishing public trust.

Lashonda Moreland’s day had barely begun when the pounding on the front door began. Her husband had already left for work, and she was home with her two children in their second storey apartment in a suburb of St Louis, Missouri.

When a voice barked through the door, Moreland realised the figures outside were police officers.

“He said, ‘You need to open up the door or we’re going to kick it down,'” she recalls. “My kids are scared and they’re crying…I’m upset and I start crying.”

The police arrested Moreland – a 30-year-old home healthcare worker with no criminal history – and she spent the next several days in various jails until she was transferred over the river to St Clair County, Illinois.

“It was scary because I had never been in jail. I never had to be on lockdown,” she says. “I literally cried every day. I was trying to wrap my mind around, ‘Why am I in here?'”

Moreland was accused of shoplifting, evading police and for trying to run down a police officer with her car. […]

All the police had was the licence plate number, which was registered to Lashonda Moreland’s address. When Officer Rutter looked at Moreland’s driver’s licence photo, he immediately identified her as the woman who had tried to run him over.

Moreland didn’t own a Buick, nor did she do her shopping 30 minutes away in a completely different state. She did, however, have a cousin who had registered his maroon Buick LeSabre to her address without telling her. She explained all this to the Fairview Heights police when they first contacted her after the incident, but they didn’t believe her.

Things looked bad for Moreland. She couldn’t prove her alibi and the witness who placed her at the scene was an officer of the law. She was facing up to 11 years in prison.

Instead of getting dragged through a jury trial, something surprising happened. Moreland’s lawyer Kristi Flint told the St Clair County state’s attorney office that her client was innocent. In response, the prosecutor offered Moreland the chance to take a polygraph test. Flint nervously agreed, and Moreland passed. Six months after her arrest, the charges were dropped. Everyone, including the Fairview Heights police department, agrees that Moreland is innocent.

Moreland did not know it at the time, but she was the beneficiary of a new programme created by St Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly: the Actual Innocence Claim Policy and Protocol. It is a unique, pre-conviction intervention which attempts to prevent the “actually innocent” from going through a trial, taking a plea deal, or ending up in prison.

Actual innocence is a legal concept which means, simply, that a defendant did not commit the crime of which he or she is accused. It is usually invoked when a prison inmate is attempting to appeal his sentence, but Kelly wanted to bring the spirit of the concept to the pre-conviction level.

“That’s distinct from ‘I didn’t get treated fairly’,” says Kelly, a Navy veteran who became the county’s top law enforcement officer in 2010 when he was only 34 years old. “It’s not, ‘Some of the evidence was obtained unlawfully, there was an incorrect ruling by the court, on the trial level some error by the defense’ – no, you actually have the wrong person here…they’re actually innocent.”

Since Kelly implemented the policy two years ago, nine defendants – including Lashonda Moreland – have had their charges dropped before trial. Those cases include a reckless homicide by vehicle, four armed robberies and one murder.

To the best of his knowledge, no other prosecutor in the country is attempting anything quite like it. Even the US Department of Justice has taken an interest in what is happening in St Clair County. […]

Kelly does not think being open to admitting law enforcement mistakes makes him soft on crime. He considers himself an “aggressive” prosecutor who believes in law enforcement and its role in bringing about the precipitous decline in crime in the US since the 1990s. […]

“Your local DA is accountable not to some person who appointed them in DC, or some state capitol somewhere, but is accountable to the people that they serve,” he says. “I think the prosecutor has the ability to be uniquely part of the solution, because again, we’re the one entity whose duty is first and foremost to justice.”

Please note that final paragraph. Here’s a State’s Attorney who gets it. (Of course, a cynic might point out that the State of Illinois, in its parlous financial condition, probably can’t afford too many wrongful conviction settlements.)

The only downside to this story is my surprise that the justice system had to come up with the concept of “Actual Innocence” to distinguish how it handles some suspects as compared to how it’s usually handled suspects.

Need I say more about ‘how it’s usually handled suspects’?

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Expensive insurance

November 21, 2015

Here’s an interesting post at Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution:

Can this be true?

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals [emphasis added].

That is from Martin Armstrong, via Noah Smith and Michael Hendrix. While private sector robberies are underreported by a considerable amount, this is nonetheless a startling contrast.

This seems to be the source for Cowen’s post.

I have no idea whether this is true. But if it is then police protection is turning into pretty expensive insurance, eh?

Via CoyoteBlog

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