Pubdate: Tue, 12 Apr 2016
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2016 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Authors: Tammie Wilson and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
Note: Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole/Fairbanks, has served in the 
Alaska House of Representatives since 2009. Rep. Jonathan 
Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, has served since 2012.
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Government Should Not Keep Seized Property If There's No Conviction

Civil liberties make unusual bedfellows.

If you follow the Alaska Legislature, you know this byline is the 
equivalent of pigs taking flight or a glacier in hell. For people who 
have a life outside politics, let us explain: We the authors, Rep. 
Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, 
D-Sitka, inhabit what could be described as disparate real estate on 
the political-philosophical spectrum.

With regularity, and with abundant good cheer, we cancel out each 
other's votes on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives. 
Board of Fish confirmations, University of Alaska budget, Common 
Core. You name it, we are like chocolate and vanilla, oil and 
vinegar, Coke and Pepsi, Tesla and Edison. We are expert agreeable disagreers.

When we're burning the 10 p.m. oil in our offices on a Monday night, 
one of us will wander down the hall to the other's office, pop our 
head in about X or Y or Z and ask, " What do you think?"

When we see X or Y or Z the same way, we work together.

We're writing today about an issue we agree on, and we think you'll agree, too.

It's called civil asset forfeiture. It infringes on our civil 
liberties and we want to enact reforms.

What is civil asset forfeiture? Those are three pretty legal sounding 
words stacked up on top of each other, and they don't mean anything 
intelligible to a normal person.

We can explain. Civil asset forfeiture is the ability of law 
enforcement to take your private property without charging you with a 
crime, and potentially even dispose of or sell your private property 
and keep the proceeds.

Sounds at least a little crazy, right? Asset forfeiture law gives 
police broad authority to take or seize property of people if they 
have probable cause that the private property was involved in 
criminal activity. The owner of the property that has been seized 
does not have to be convicted of a crime.

If your private property is seized through civil asset forfeiture, 
the onus is on you to get it back. You have to prove a negative: that 
your private property was not related to criminal activity. In other 
words, you're presumed guilty unless proven otherwise.

That sounds at least a little crazy, too, right?

Nationally, criminal charges are not filed 80 percent of the time 
private property is seized through civil asset forfeiture. And yet, 
the owners of private property seized in that way rarely get their 
stuff back. Because private citizens are not entitled to legal 
assistance in these civil cases, those who are hit hardest by civil 
seizures are those who can least afford to fight back.

The way private property gets seized through civil forfeiture laws 
has become so distorted from lawmakers' original intent that Brad 
Cates, who headed the Asset Forfeiture Office at the U.S. Department 
of Justice from 1983 to 1989, has since become a vocal opponent of 
civil forfeiture laws, calling them "fundamentally at odds with our 
judicial system and notions of fairness."

Unfortunately, a recent report from the Institute for Justice 
assessed Alaska's laws relating to civil seizure of private property 
as highly problematic.

Also unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the full scope of the 
problem in Alaska because there are no record-keeping or reporting 
requirements on the seizure of private property through civil asset forfeiture.

We want to eliminate the seizure of private property through civil 
asset forfeiture. The government should not be able to take your 
property when you have not been convicted of a crime. That's what 
House Bill 317 corrects.

It's a good bill. We want you to know about it and we want to urge 
its passage - and you to urge its passage - in the Alaska Legislature 
this session.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom