Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jan 2003
Source: Bergen Record (NJ)
Copyright: 2003 Bergen Record Corp.
Author: John Curran
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


ATLANTIC CITY - Citing potential administrative nightmares, the state asked
a judge Thursday to delay enforcement of a ruling that bans police and
prosecutors from sharing the loot seized in civil forfeiture cases.

Last month, Superior Court Judge G. Thomas Bowen declared the practice
unconstitutional after a challenge by a former Cumberland County sheriff's
deputy whose 1990 Ford Thunderbird was seized by the state because her
teenage son had been caught selling marijuana from it.

The state will appeal the Dec. 11 ruling to the Appellate Division within
two weeks, according to John Hagerty, spokesman for the state Division of
Criminal Justice.

In the meantime, the property seized by authorities has been thrown into
limbo, since it can no longer be distributed to police and prosecutors,
Deputy Attorney General Linda Danielson said in a letter brief filed in
Bowen's court in Salem County.

Much is at stake: Between 1998 and 2000, the state seized about $25 million
in such cases, distributing it among police and prosecutors in all 21

Without a stay, the owners of seized property would flood courts seeking
return of the items and reparations, Danielson said. What's more, if the
state were to rearrange its procedures for handling civil forfeitures and a
higher court were to later reverse Bowen's ruling, money would be needlessly
wasted, she said.

"Whether their claims are successful or not, judicial and prosecutorial
resources will need to be expended entertaining such contentions," Danielson

Carol Thomas, 45, of Millville, who was never charged in the criminal case
after her son was caught selling marijuana from her car, says the state's
system for letting police and prosecutors keep what they seize from
criminals or suspects amounts to legalized bounty hunting.

Bowen agreed in his ruling, saying the potential profit for law enforcement
officials taints their motive in seizing the property. The state wants a
higher court to rule now.

"This court has decided an issue of great constitutional magnitude and has
invalidated, on a relatively untested legal theory, a statutory provision
found in both the federal statute and the statutes of many other states,"
Danielson said.

Bowen didn't immediately rule on the stay request Thursday.
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