Pubdate: Sun, 22 Feb 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp


Back in 2002, a large majority of Colorado lawmakers concluded that 
police should seize the assets of people only after criminal 
conviction, with few exceptions- and wrote those requirements into law.

But asset forfeiture without a conviction still occurs, as a case 
highlighted in a recent Denver Post story by Noelle Phillips made 
clear. As related by Phillips, a South Dakota couple in December 
watched Parker police and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 
agent take $25,000 from their vehicle after a stop triggered by a 
temporary tag. And yet the couple were never charged with a crime, 
let alone convicted.

Such a seizure would be wrong even if the couple didn't have a 
plausible, if unusual, story about why they had so much cash in hand- 
because it trampled on due process and the presumption of innocence 
under the U.S. Constitution.

But it also clearly is counter to what lawmakers envisioned in 2002. 
It appears Parker police may have summoned a DEA agent as a way to 
sidestep state law. If so, their ploy is hardly new or unique.

Indeed, Attorney General Eric Holder last month issued an order that 
bars federal agencies from "adopting" civil forfeitures from local 
departments. Unfortunately, he didn't go far enough.

As the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., f0und when it 
examined data from 2008 to 2013, "the vast majority of seizures, 
including most that occur under the controversial equitable sharing 
program, would continue after the policy change." Most of the sharing 
between federal and local agencies, it turns out, "resulted from 
joint task forces or joint investigations exempt from the new rules."

Sen. Laura Woods, R-Arvada, wants the legislature to attempt to 
tighten the rules on asset forfeiture once again. And although she 
tells us her Senate Bill 6 will be watered down somewhat from its 
original form to meet law enforcement objections, it is still a 
worthwhile measure.

Probably the biggest change in her amended bill, which is scheduled 
for a hearing this week, would bar local agencies from participating 
in a federal asset forfeiture action if the property is valued at 
less than $50,000. Lawmakers can't dictate what federal agents do, 
but they can try to eliminate incentives for police to initiate or 
cooperate in the more marginal, and dubious, actions.

Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice, 
maintains that "it is completely within the power of a legislature to 
instruct law enforcement when they can enter into contracts with 
federal agencies. Raising the dollar threshold is a way to address 
the circumvention" of strict state law.

Colorado can't prevent the federal government from abusing citizen 
rights, but it should try to make sure its own agencies aren't 
complicit in the behavior.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom