Pubdate: Tue, 22 Jun 2010
Source: Times, The (Shreveport, LA)
Copyright: 2010 The Times
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., of West Falls, N.Y., writes about public 
policy issues for DKT Liberty Project, a Washington, D.C.-based civil 
liberties organization.
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Instead of relying on state laws to protect property owners, 
Louisiana law enforcement officers are using state and federal 
statutes to stack the law against them.

Law enforcement officers can seize your car, your cash or your boat 
if they merely suspect the property was involved in a crime - and 
they don't even have to prove it. In most cases, you must prove the 
property is innocent to get it back.

"Modern civil forfeiture exploded during the 1980s as governments at 
all levels stepped up the war on drugs, and Congress and the states 
created new incentives for the use of civil asset forfeiture - one of 
the worst abuses of property rights in our nation today," according 
to the Institute for Justice report Policing for Profit: The Abuse of 
Civil Asset Forfeiture.

Here is how Louisiana law enforcement officers have become private 
property bounty hunters.

In 1984, amendments to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention 
Act created a fund in Washington, D.C., into which property seized by 
state and local law enforcement agencies is transferred. Federal 
forfeiture actions then are initiated against these assets. When they 
are forfeited, up to 80 percent of the bounty is returned to 
Louisiana law enforcement agencies based on a so-called "equitable 
sharing" formula.

By transferring assets to the federal fund, law enforcement agencies 
are able to circumvent more stringent state and local forfeiture 
procedural laws and laws in many states that specifically limit or 
prohibit the use of seized assets to buy squad cars and other law 
enforcement equipment.

"In Louisiana, protection against wrongful forfeiture of assets by 
police is inadequate," says the institute's report. "The state may 
forfeit your property by showing a preponderance of evidence ... and 
the property owner must then show that he is innocent - that he did 
not know and could not have reasonably known of the conduct or that 
he acted reasonably to prevent the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture."

 From 2000-08, Louisiana's equitable share of forfeited assets from 
Washington, D.C., totaled more than $17.3 million and is on the rise 
- - from $1.9 million in 2000 to $2.7 million in 2008.

Nationally, federal and state deposits into the federal forfeiture 
fund have grown from $406 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion in 2008.

As a law enforcement agency's use of this independent source of 
funding grows, its dependence on and accountability to state and 
local taxpayers goes down. To better protect private property rights, 
the institute recommends:

. that the federal equitable sharing loophole be closed;

. a higher standard of proof in civil forfeiture cases before 
governments can seize private property; and,

. that law enforcement agencies be required to publicly account for 
all assets received from civil forfeitures.

Until these reforms are made, Louisiana citizens will continue to 
wonder why their law enforcement forces conduct drug raids. Are they 
to rid the town of drugs? Or are the raids being used primarily to 
fatten law enforcement agencies' budgets?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake