America's sheriffs have given President Trump a woefully inaccurate
view of civil asset forfeiture-the process through which police seize,
and prosecutors literally sue, cash, cars and real estate that they
suspect may be connected to a crime. "People want to say we're taking
money and without due process. That's not true," a Kentucky sheriff
told the president last month at a White House meeting. Critics of
forfeiture, the sheriff added, simply "make up stories."
In fact, thousands of Americans have had their assets taken without
ever being charged with a crime, let alone convicted. Russ Caswell
almost lost his Massachusetts motel, which had been run by his family
for more than 50 years, because of 15 "drug-related incidents" there
from 1994-2008, a period through which he rented out nearly 200,000
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The AG nominee should be asked about an abusive practice.
Democrats are wrong in most of their criticism of Alabama Senator Jeff
Sessions to be Attorney General. But if they or fellow Republicans are
looking for a legitimate area to probe, they should explore his views on
governmenta€™s use of civil forfeiture.
The all-too-common practice allows law enforcement to take private
property without due process and has become a cash cow for state and local
police and prosecutors. Under a federal program called a€śequitable
sharing,a€ť local law enforcement can team up with federal authorities to
seize property in exchange for 80% of the proceeds.
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A judge has ruled that British Columbia's Civil Forfeiture Office
cannot seize assets unless they are tied to unlawful activity, a
decision that a lawyer in the case says is an important precedent.
The case began in November, 2015, when the forfeiture office began an
attempt to seize property from several people charged in an RCMP
investigation into a marijuana trafficking network one month earlier.
The office - a government agency that has been criticized for its
aggressive attempts to seize homes, vehicles and cash connected to
criminal offences, even from people who have not been convicted or
charged - named six of the men who were charged as defendants in the
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The witnesses' narratives had a common thread: the victims were
low-level drug pushers silenced by corrupt law enforcers who were
either their protectors or suppliers in the illegal drug trade.
This emerged at the first Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings
led by the committee on justice and human rights, chaired by Sen.
Leila de Lima, and the committee on public order and illegal drugs
chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa
told the joint hearing that as of yesterday, the PNP had tallied 712
suspects killed in legitimate operations, of whom 269 were reported
in Metro Manila, since the Duterte administration launched its war on
drugs on July 1.
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On Monday, the state Assembly approved a bill aimed at curbing abuses
of civil asset forfeiture, a practice by which law enforcement may
seize a person's property, cash and other assets without first
achieving a criminal conviction.
If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill
443, proposed last year by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and
Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance, will require a criminal
conviction before assets worth less than $40,000 can be seized.
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At least one barrier to asset forfeiture reform has been cleared, as
a compromise has been reached between law enforcement groups and
state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.
Last year, California seemed set to join a growing number of states
in reforming civil asset forfeiture, a means by which law enforcement
agencies can seize a person's assets without first obtaining a
As initially conceived, Senate Bill 443, bipartisan legislation
authored by Sen. Mitchell and Assemblyman David Hadley, R-Torrance,
would have required a criminal conviction before assets in excess of
$25,000 could be seized, granted a right to counsel for the indigent
and authorized attorney's fees for those who successfully appeal
forfeiture cases, among other requirements.
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Republican political consultant Mike Madrid isn't used to getting
calls from the ACLU, and yet he has found himself working with the
civil liberties group because some practices are so egregious that
Republicans and Democrats should have no trouble finding common
cause. The issue is civil asset forfeiture - also known as "policing
for profit." The federal government can seize your property, and the
only way you can get it back is to prove you are not guilty of a
crime. California law prohibits local authorities from permanently
seizing most property without a conviction, but there's a loophole in
the law - called "equitable sharing." Local police can seize your
property, hand jurisdiction over the feds, and get rewarded with up
to 80 percent of the goodies even if prosecutors fail to convict - or
even charge - an offender.
[continues 774 words]
It's a widely abused practice that was imposed on America by past
state legislatures and the federal government. Civil asset forfeiture
has been used to take innocent people's property for decades, and is
perhaps better known as "legal plunder."
As such, there's nothing particularly "civil" about civil asset
forfeiture, and a California state senator wants to do something
about that in the Golden State.
In many states, under civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement can
seize private property without a search warrant or an indictment,
much less a conviction, based solely on suspicion that the property
has been involved in, or is the ill-gotten gains of, criminal activity.
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A B.C. man who spent years fighting an attempt by the province's
Civil Forfeiture Office to seize his home has launched a legal action
of his own, accusing the government office of abusing its authority.
David Lloydsmith was at his home in Mission, B.C., in October, 2007,
when an RCMP officer knocked on the door and said he was responding
to a 911 call. Mr. Lloydsmith told the officer he was the only person
at the home and had not called 911. The officer asked to enter the
residence, a request Mr. Lloydsmith refused. But when he attempted to
close the door, the officer barged in and restrained him, a judge
later found. A subsequent search turned up marijuana plants, and Mr.
Lloydsmith was arrested for production-related offences.
[continues 569 words]
Police and prosecutors across the country have for years beaten back
most serious efforts to reform civil forfeiture statutes, which allow
law enforcement to seize property from people who have never been
charged, let alone convicted, of any crime.
But signs abound that justice and due process may eventually prevail.
Civil forfeiture laws proliferated in the 1980s as part of the war on
drugs and were intended to ensure that crime bosses didn't profit
from their shadowy pursuits. But their aggressive application in many
jurisdictions has also led to hundreds of high-profile abuses
involving innocent people forced to surrender cash, homes, cars,
jewelry and other valuables that the authorities merely suspected of
being connected to a crime.
[continues 333 words]
Let me thank the Register for the update on Senate Bill 443, to rein
in the blatant legal theft from private citizens by law enforcement
agencies participating in asset forfeiture programs. SB443 would have
required a criminal conviction (rather than simply probable cause)
prior to seizure of assets by law enforcement.
The need for reform is so obvious, and the misuse of the program is
so egregious that one has to wonder if the Assembly members who voted
against it even thought about what they were doing or were simply
responding to the lobbying efforts of the California police chiefs
and district attorneys associations to defeat the legislation. Defeat
it so that they could use the funds for extra "stuff."
[continues 114 words]
Re: =93Texas tops in use of civil asset forfeiture
=AD And it's likely to get worse, Audrey Redford says,=94 Monday
Thanks to Redford for her excellent column and to
The News for continuing to call attention to the
most corrupting influence in law enforcement =AD civil asset forfeiture.
The injustice of police taking property without
due process has not gone unnoticed.
Right on Crime, a project of the Texas Public
Policy Foundation, the American Conservative
Union Foundation and the Prison Fellowship, has
given a series of seminars on the subject. It
says civil forfeiture endangers individual rights
and the integrity of law enforcement.
[continues 108 words]
Law enforcement should not be allowed to seize a person's assets
before there is a criminal conviction and a clearly established nexus
between someone's assets and criminal activity.
This very simple set of premises is completely rejected under the
system of civil asset forfeiture, a practice which allows law
enforcement agencies to take a person's property or cash with minimal
due process and without a criminal conviction ever taking place.
The practice incentivizes the allocation of law enforcement resources
to crimes and strategies that maximize the potential for generating
revenues that boost the budgets of local police and sheriff's departments.
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In just over a decade, Texas law enforcement collected more than half a
billion dollars, $540.7 million, in cash and personal property from
Texans suspected of breaking the law. Known as civil asset forfeiture,
this legal practice leaves average Texans vulnerable to having their
assets seized by police, no trial or proof of guilt necessary.
Texas is among the worst states in the nation for civil asset forfeiture
abuse. The Institute for Justice's "Policing for Profit" report gave
Texas a D+ and said the state leads the nation in average annual
forfeiture proceeds, at roughly $41.6 million.
[continues 503 words]
The Chicago Sun- Times editorial ["Law needs to rein in government
seizures," April 19] supporting the reform of Illinois and federal
forfeiture laws regarding drugs and suspected drug proceeds was spot-
on correct, and former administrator of the U. S. Drug Enforcement
Administration Peter Bensinger's contrary opinion was dead wrong.
["Seize cartel assets best way to beat them," letter to the editor, April 22].
As the Chicago Sun- Times editorialized on June 22, 2010, "America's
War on Drugs is over - we lost - and it's time to get real about our
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Well, that didn't last long. The Justice Department suspended its
"equitable sharing" asset forfeiture program in December due to
budget cuts, then announced at the end of March that it would be
resuming the program.
The controversial program allows state and local police agencies to
partner with federal law enforcement agencies to bypass stricter
state laws limiting civil asset forfeiture and receive a larger
portion of the assets. In California, for example, police may retain
66.25 percent of assets seized, but by partnering with federal
agencies they may keep 80 percent of the proceeds.
[continues 291 words]
Regarding "Policing for profit amounts to criminal injustice" (April
6): Thank you for this article. Yes, we have spent billions of
dollars incarcerating people for low-level crimes such as drug possession.
Asset forfeiture is a disgrace and a hardship for too many families.
I understand that law enforcement has been taking an average of over
$8,000 from people in California under this policy. We must stop this
abuse and right these wrongs. SB 443 would protect innocent
Californians by making sure that the criminal justice system can't
take their money or property if the person hasn't been convicted of a crime.
Gretchen Burns Bergman
Regarding "Policing for profit is a growing problem" (April 5):
Government agents should not be empowered to take innocent people's
property and keep what they take.
Forfeiture is ripe for abuse and that's exactly what we've seen.
According to a report released last week, people of color and of
lower income have repeatedly been targeted for non-criminal asset forfeiture.
Perhaps that's because these groups are statistically less likely to
use banks (and therefore more likely to be walking around with cash)
and less likely to be able to fight the government to get their property back.
[continues 63 words]
The Justice Department recently announced that it is resuming the
"equitable sharing" part of its civil asset forfeiture program, thus
ending one of the major criminal justice reform victories of the
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool by which police officers can
seize and sell private property without a convicting the owner of any
crime, and equitable sharing is a process by which state and local
police can circumvent state restrictions on civil asset forfeiture
and take property under the color of federal law.
[continues 472 words]
Taxpayers beware: There is a dangerously naive proposal making the
rounds in Tallahassee. Some politicians want to significantly damage
Florida's successful Contraband Forfeiture Act. This is the law that
prevents criminals from profiting from their illegal acts. Just like
we prohibit killers from profiting by writing books about their
crimes, the civil contraband forfeiture law in Florida allows law
enforcement agencies to seize assets that are linked to criminal
activity with full due process protections for the accused.
Bills sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Metz and Matt
Caldwell (Senate Bill 1044 and House Bill 889) would make it more
difficult, and sometimes impossible, to seize criminals' illegally
obtained assets. As a result, more crooks will get to keep their
ill-gotten money while you work, pay your taxes, and now will have to
pay more to ensure law enforcement has the necessary tools to fight
and reduce crime. Why should hardworking taxpayers pay more in taxes
while criminals who sell drugs to our kids get to keep their
dishonestly acquired money?
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