Pubdate: Tue, 18 Nov 2014
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Times, LLC.
Page: B2
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Law Enforcement Needs to Stop Extorting Innocent Victims

The D.C. Council later today will vote on whether to adopt a package 
of reforms designed to restrict the ability of D.C. law enforcement 
officials to seize the property of those connected to, but innocent 
of, wrongdoing. Civil forfeiture has been termed "policing for 
profit," because in many states and local jurisdictions law 
enforcement agencies that seize such property are allowed to keep the 
cash realized from its sale or the cash itself if that is what is 
seized, and use it as they will.

In fact, federal authorities, as well as local officials, often 
include the funds they project will be seized as part of their 
budgets. Even if those from whom the property is taken are never 
indicted or convicted of any crime whatsoever, it is often virtually 
impossible for them to retrieve their property. Houses have been 
seized and sold by law enforcement in some jurisdictions because 
someone in the house. usually a teenager or visitor, is arrested on 
minor drug charges and may or may not later be convicted of a misdemeanor.

In other cases, police stop automobiles for minor reasons such as a 
broken tail light lens or for failure to signal a lane change, 
determine the driver to be suspicious, search the vehicle for cash, 
which they then seize, alleging it must be the fruit of drug dealing 
even if they find no drugs in the vehicle or have any evidence 
whatsoever that the driver is involved in drug dealing or drug use. 
Money has been seized from people transporting it for perfectly legal 
reasons and is virtually impossible to get back. In some cases, the 
police call in drug-sniffing dogs, knowing that as a practical matter 
there is probably enough trace drug residue on most $20 and larger 
denomination bills to "justify" the seizure.

In June 1999, then-Rep. Henry Hyde, who was then serving as chairman 
of the House Judiciary Committee, persuaded Congress over the 
objections of the Justice Department and law enforcement officials to 
pass legislation requiring the federal government to prove that 
seized property is related to a crime to allow "innocent owners" 
unaware of criminal activity associated with their property to 
recover their assets.

By partnering with state and local jurisdictions, the federal 
government has been able to avoid these and other restrictions on 
what was considered a runaway program back then, and the practice has 
grown in the decades since. The greatest growth of civil forfeiture 
has taken place since President Obama moved into the White House with 
seizures nearly doubling from 2008 to today.

Loretta Lynch, Mr. Obama's choice to succeed Attorney General Eric H. 
Holder Jr. has served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of 
New York and has emerged as one of the nation's chief prosecutorial 
advocates of civil forfeiture. As The Wall Street Journal noted on 
her selection, she has bragged that in 2013 alone, her office 
accounted for more than $904 million in such seizures. A car here, a 
house there and pretty soon you're talking about real money, much of 
which is extorted from innocent victims.

It is our hope that today the D.C. Council will restrict civil 
seizures here, and that when Ms Lynch seeks confirmation, the Senate 
will seek her support for real reform of this government abuse.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom