Posts Tagged ‘asset forfeiture’

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So what happened to "livin’ right and bein’ free"?

April 26, 2016

Here’s an e-mail I got today from Scott Bullock with the Institute for Justice. You gotta love what the IJ does — and they don’t fool around.

Yesterday, IJ won our fastest victory ever. Just hours after we launched our latest civil forfeiture case with an exclusive feature in The Washington Post, the government agreed to drop all charges against our clients and returned every cent that it had wrongfully seized.

This case involves one of the most outrageous forfeiture actions we’ve seen yet. During a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light, the Muskogee, Oklahoma, sheriff’s department seized more than $53,000 from our clients—a church and a Burmese Christian band on tour in the U.S. trying to raise funds for charity. The full Washington Post story is here, and you can find more information about the case, including IJ’s video, on our website.

Law enforcement nationwide continues to use civil forfeiture to steal property and hard-earned cash from innocent owners. But with your support, we were able to act quickly and marshal resources across time zones—and, in this case, continents—to come to their defense. Despite its short duration, this case involved a great deal of work and hustle by IJ attorneys. Indeed, I suspect this is the first time anyone has had to chase down notaries in Burma, rural Thailand, Omaha, and Dallas all on the same day. This victory brings us one step closer to our goal of abolishing forfeiture, and we are grateful to you for making it possible.

My, what a contrast to Merle Haggard’s song Okie from Muskogee. I wonder what Merle (may he rest in peace) would make of this story?

It sounds to me like some of those Okies aren’t doing right and the rest of ’em may not be too free.

Here’s the IJ’s page about this case: Highway robbery in Muskogee.

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It can’t all be bad news, right?

April 22, 2016

I came across a couple of encouraging news items recently. First (via Reason), this news from Florida about a new law governing civil asset forfeiture. (My emphasis below.)

RICK SCOTT SIGNS 14 MORE BILLS INTO LAW

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law another 14 bills from the 2016 Legislative Session. […]

The latest bills include SB 1044, under which law enforcement will have to charge people with a crime before they can seize their money, cars, homes or other property.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, sponsored the measure, which was supported from both sides of the political spectrum.

It’s designed to prevent abuses of the current law, which doesn’t require an arrest before property is seized, but rather law enforcement’s belief that it was likely used in a crime.

“Today is a major win for liberty in the Sunshine State,” Brandes wrote on his Facebook page Friday.

He credited help from fellow Sens. Aaron Bean and Jeff Clemens, and state Reps. Matt Caldwell and Larry Metz, “as well as the wide range of stakeholders from our law enforcement community to civil libertarian organizations.” […]

Now there’s a thought: make the cops stand up in front of God ‘n’ ever’body and charge some people with some crimes if they think crimes were committed.

Amen, Sen. Brandes. It’s a major win indeed. Thank you, Florida! I hope the other states take a lesson.

But, wait, there’s more! And mirabile dictu, it gets even better. The BBC had an article about the State’s Attorney in St. Clair Co., Illinois (which is the next county east of mine).

Could ‘actual innocence’ save the broken US justice system?

In St Clair County, Illinois, the local prosecutor is trying a radical new experiment: admitting his office has charged innocent people with crimes and clearing their names before they spend a day in prison. It’s a unique reform effort as prosecutors around the country face increased scrutiny and diminishing public trust.

Lashonda Moreland’s day had barely begun when the pounding on the front door began. Her husband had already left for work, and she was home with her two children in their second storey apartment in a suburb of St Louis, Missouri.

When a voice barked through the door, Moreland realised the figures outside were police officers.

“He said, ‘You need to open up the door or we’re going to kick it down,'” she recalls. “My kids are scared and they’re crying…I’m upset and I start crying.”

The police arrested Moreland – a 30-year-old home healthcare worker with no criminal history – and she spent the next several days in various jails until she was transferred over the river to St Clair County, Illinois.

“It was scary because I had never been in jail. I never had to be on lockdown,” she says. “I literally cried every day. I was trying to wrap my mind around, ‘Why am I in here?'”

Moreland was accused of shoplifting, evading police and for trying to run down a police officer with her car. […]

All the police had was the licence plate number, which was registered to Lashonda Moreland’s address. When Officer Rutter looked at Moreland’s driver’s licence photo, he immediately identified her as the woman who had tried to run him over.

Moreland didn’t own a Buick, nor did she do her shopping 30 minutes away in a completely different state. She did, however, have a cousin who had registered his maroon Buick LeSabre to her address without telling her. She explained all this to the Fairview Heights police when they first contacted her after the incident, but they didn’t believe her.

Things looked bad for Moreland. She couldn’t prove her alibi and the witness who placed her at the scene was an officer of the law. She was facing up to 11 years in prison.

Instead of getting dragged through a jury trial, something surprising happened. Moreland’s lawyer Kristi Flint told the St Clair County state’s attorney office that her client was innocent. In response, the prosecutor offered Moreland the chance to take a polygraph test. Flint nervously agreed, and Moreland passed. Six months after her arrest, the charges were dropped. Everyone, including the Fairview Heights police department, agrees that Moreland is innocent.

Moreland did not know it at the time, but she was the beneficiary of a new programme created by St Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly: the Actual Innocence Claim Policy and Protocol. It is a unique, pre-conviction intervention which attempts to prevent the “actually innocent” from going through a trial, taking a plea deal, or ending up in prison.

Actual innocence is a legal concept which means, simply, that a defendant did not commit the crime of which he or she is accused. It is usually invoked when a prison inmate is attempting to appeal his sentence, but Kelly wanted to bring the spirit of the concept to the pre-conviction level.

“That’s distinct from ‘I didn’t get treated fairly’,” says Kelly, a Navy veteran who became the county’s top law enforcement officer in 2010 when he was only 34 years old. “It’s not, ‘Some of the evidence was obtained unlawfully, there was an incorrect ruling by the court, on the trial level some error by the defense’ – no, you actually have the wrong person here…they’re actually innocent.”

Since Kelly implemented the policy two years ago, nine defendants – including Lashonda Moreland – have had their charges dropped before trial. Those cases include a reckless homicide by vehicle, four armed robberies and one murder.

To the best of his knowledge, no other prosecutor in the country is attempting anything quite like it. Even the US Department of Justice has taken an interest in what is happening in St Clair County. […]

Kelly does not think being open to admitting law enforcement mistakes makes him soft on crime. He considers himself an “aggressive” prosecutor who believes in law enforcement and its role in bringing about the precipitous decline in crime in the US since the 1990s. […]

“Your local DA is accountable not to some person who appointed them in DC, or some state capitol somewhere, but is accountable to the people that they serve,” he says. “I think the prosecutor has the ability to be uniquely part of the solution, because again, we’re the one entity whose duty is first and foremost to justice.”

Please note that final paragraph. Here’s a State’s Attorney who gets it. (Of course, a cynic might point out that the State of Illinois, in its parlous financial condition, probably can’t afford too many wrongful conviction settlements.)

The only downside to this story is my surprise that the justice system had to come up with the concept of “Actual Innocence” to distinguish how it handles some suspects as compared to how it’s usually handled suspects.

Need I say more about ‘how it’s usually handled suspects’?

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Not much, I hope

January 9, 2016

Here’s some news that might be good news on the asset forfeiture front. We’ll see how permanent this policy change is.

What’s next for feds’ seizure program after local payments stopped?

Local law enforcement agencies will no longer reap any rewards from a controversial federal program that allows police to take money and property from individuals – and keep up to 80 percent of it – even if those individuals are never charged with any crime.

That’s because the Justice Department earlier this month suspended payments from the “equitable sharing” program that normally paid out 80 percent of those funds collected to local agencies, citing budget cuts.

The move prompted cheers from those trying to eliminate or reform such seizures and forfeitures, with some saying the action could eventually reduce the number of officers who perform such seizures. But it has also raised major concern among those local agencies and the law enforcement community nationwide about the drop in potential funding. […]

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Still not convinced asset forfeiture is a racket?

July 23, 2015

Noice! For the highwaymen getting the loot, that is.

From Reason’s Hit & Run:

Oklahoma Official Used Asset Forfeiture to Pay Back His Student Loans
Another lived rent-free in a confiscated house.

An assistant district attorney in the state of Oklahoma lived rent-free in a house confiscated by local law enforcement under the practice of asset forfeiture. His office paid the utility bills. He remained there for five years, despite a court order to sell the house at auction.

Another district attorney used $5,000 worth of confiscated funds to pay back his student loans.

These are just a few of the gems unearthed during a recent hearing on Oklahoma authorities’ liberal use of asset forfeiture to take property from suspected criminals and spend it on personal enrichment. […]

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Just exercising their license to steal

July 2, 2015

At least Mr. Gorman recovered his money and his attorney fees. But I doubt they paid him interest for the 2½ years they’ve held his money.

Judge Orders Lying, Cheating Government To Return $167,000 To The Man They Stole It From

A federal judge has just ordered the government to return $167,000 it took from a man passing through Nevada on his way to visit his girlfriend in California. The officers really wanted that money, too. They used two consecutive stops to jerry-rig some probable cause… even though at that point they thought they were only dealing with $2000. From the original stop forward, the entire situation was deplorable, indisputably showing that everyone involved was more interested in taking (and keeping) a bunch of cash than enforcing laws or pursuing justice.

The order is a jaw-dropping read. It begins with the flimsiest of “reasonable suspicion” and heads downhill after that. […]

This order shows law enforcement at its ugliest: willing to lie and cheat to maintain control of what it stole.

Make it a rule: never carry more than petty cash when you travel in the US. There are just too many legally-sanctioned robberies.

Taking someone’s assets is robbery even if those assets were gained illicitly. You’ve got laws: try the people and punish those convicted. If there’s a fine involved then you can seize their assets.

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Rand Paul’s FAIR Act

July 26, 2014

It’s legislation like this that impresses me with Rand Paul. As Matt Welch (with Reason) once said, "You have to remind yourself that Senator Paul’s a Republican."

What a guy. Go get ’em, Tiger.

Sen. Paul Introduces the FAIR Act
Jul 24, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Rand Paul yesterday introduced S. 2644, the FAIR (Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration) Act, which would protect the rights of citizens and restore the Fifth Amendment’s role in seizing property without due process of law. Under current law, law enforcement agencies may take property suspected of involvement in crime without ever charging, let alone convicting, the property owner. In addition, state agencies routinely use federal asset forfeiture laws; ignoring state regulations to confiscate and receive financial proceeds from forfeited property.
 
The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.
 
“The federal government has made it far too easy for government agencies to take and profit from the property of those who have not been convicted of a crime. The FAIR Act will ensure that government agencies no longer profit from taking the property of U.S. citizens without due process, while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds of crime,” Sen. Paul said
 
Click HERE for the FAIR Act legislation text.

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