Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crime Does Pay After all: Policemen getting Rich off Civil Forfeitures?

A report initially sound troubling:  "The state only needs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is related to a crime and thus forfeitable, a standard lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction.

I'm not going to say a lot about this right now til I have a chance to look into it more. This article from the Huffington Post brought it to my attention:

The sign outside a new, $4.1 million law enforcement training facility in Richland, Mississippi, reads, "Richland Police Station tearfully donated by drug dealers." As Watchdog.org reported on Monday, it's a proud declaration of the fact that funding for the building, as well as for a new fleet of Dodge Charger police cruisers, came entirely from a civil asset forfeiture program used by police in this town of about 7,000 people.

But the sign also suggests a certain blitheness in the face of strong public criticism of civil asset forfeiture -- the legal tool that allows police to violate due process and property rights and treat anyone caught in their net like a drug dealer to be relieved of their money, even when there's no evidence of criminal activity.
Civil asset forfeiture is a process by which police can seize property they suspect is related to criminal activity. Police don't charge the owner of that property with a crime, and the mere existence of cash, for example, is often enough for an officer to decide he or she has "probable cause" to make a seizure. The charges are filed against the property itself, which can also include jewelry, cars or houses. The property can then be sold, with part of the proceeds flowing back to the department that made the seizure.

At that point, the burden of proof is typically flipped onto the owner, who often has to wage a costly legal battle to prove that he or she obtained the property legally in the first place. In effect, the property, and by extension the owner, is considered guilty until proven innocent.

As a result, countless numbers of innocent people have ended up "tearfully donating" their money to law enforcement, alongside those who were actually drug dealers, but were never charged with any drug crimes. A 2014 series in The Washington Post showed that since 2001, U.S. law enforcement has seized at least $2.5 billion in cash alone -- all from people who were never charged with a crime, and all without a warrant being issued. Included in this have been numerous instances of police seizing relatively small amounts of cash, as well as taking money from people who had documents proving their money came from legitimate sources. Last month, Drug Enforcement Administration agents used this tool to seize $16,000 from an aspiring music video producer riding a train through Albuquerque, New Mexico, on his way to start a career in Hollywood. The seized money represented his entire life savings. The producer is now contesting that seizure in court.