Pubdate: Sun, 03 Oct 2004
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2004 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: Laura Ayo, and Scott Barker
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


A new state policy keeps authorities from seizing property in
misdemeanor drug cases, which has some agencies and lawyers worried
about its implications.Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers issued
an opinion July 9 that prompted the Department of Safety to stop
processing seized property based on misdemeanor drug offenses.While
the DOS asked for the opinion, the attorney who runs the asset
forfeiture program for the department isn't happy with the change."I
think we're going the wrong way," Joe Bartlett said. "You're going to
see a lot more use of misdemeanor amounts because their property won't
be at risk."

In the past, if officers could show a vehicle was used to purchase or
sell even small amounts of drugs, they could seize it, Bartlett said.

But the opinion states "the mere presence of a misdemeanor amount of a
controlled substance cannot trigger the seizure of a vehicle," nor can
a forfeiture action start with "simple possession of a small amount of
drugs or drug paraphernalia."

DOS Attorney Tom Henley said not many agencies he's dealt with have
done many misdemeanor drug seizures.

Knoxville Police Department Lt. Gary Price and Etowah Police Chief
June Parham said the opinion shouldn't affect their departments.

"The majority (of drug seizures) we've done are felonies anyway,"
Price said.

But Alcoa Assistant Police Chief Ken Beeler said the new policy would
reduce drug fund revenues for his and other small departments.

"That's going to definitely cut into it quite a bit," he said.

Defense attorney Ken Irvine said the opinion validates the defense
bar's long-standing interpretation of the law.

Irvine said he hopes authorities don't try to get around it by
charging people with felonies when they normally would have charged
them with misdemeanors.

"They could charge it as a felony and let everyone sort it out when
they get to court," Irvine said.

But by then, the property may have been forfeited in the civil process.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin