Pubdate: Mon, 18 Jan 2016
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2016 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Harry R. Reinhart


As a lawyer for more than 37 years, I feel qualified to make some 
observations about the state of the criminal-justice system and the 
manner it has been administered by the General Assembly, police and 
prosecutors. This is brought about most recently by law enforcement 
complaining about proposed restrictions to forfeiture laws.

I have witnessed four decades of the war on drugs, which continues to 
be a complete and utter failure. We arrest 14 million people each 
year; we have 70 million people with criminal records; and we subject 
these folks to more than 500,000 collateral consequences that make 
them second-class citizens.

The General Assembly has chosen to regulate all manner of personal 
and social behavior through criminal law regardless of how unlikely a 
criminal sanction is to achieve the desired result.

One step in the right direction would be to make those responsible 
for the administration of these foolish and nonsensical laws 
personally responsible for the misapplication of them. For example, 
when a police officer seizes money or property and refuses to return 
it when there is either no evidence of crime or insufficient evidence 
to convict, he or she should be held personally liable at law for the 
money or the value of the property wrongfully taken.

The rule should be no forfeiture without criminal charges. But if 
that is not to be the rule, as suggested by the Ohio Prosecuting 
Attorneys Association paid apologist John Murphy, then these folks 
and their public attorneys should not be protected by sovereign 
immunity for their negligence.

The owner of the property should be allowed to file a civil lawsuit 
for the return of the property upon proof of ownership, and if the 
person or agency who took the money or property cannot show criminal 
conduct, then they should be responsible for money damages to the 
owner. The judgment should be against the responsible officer and/or 
government lawyer personally, and it should not be paid by the taxpayers.

One argument advanced by law enforcement is that some things they see 
are just so suspicious that forfeiture without criminal charges is 
justified. If the law enforcement folks are confident in their 
position about what ordinary folks do or should do, they will no 
doubt have an easy time convincing insurance underwriters of their 
position and will get reasonable premiums for their insurance policies.


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