WHAT IS CIVIL FORFEITURE
Civil forfeiture is a process by which the government can take and sell your property without convicting, or charging you with a crime. It is one of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today. Civil forfeiture is an area of law in which the government charges specific property of being guilty of wrongdoing.
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Civil forfeiture allows police to seize and then keep or sell any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime.
Seizing for Profit
Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines. This is making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property was seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive. While civil forfeiture is regularly touted as an important crime-fighting tool, authorities don’t need to charge owners with a crime in order to take their property, and most of the time, forfeiture is approved without any definitive proof of the alleged criminal ties. Once the government takes control of a person’s property, it’s typically sold off, sending proceeds back the police departments and legal offices that worked the case.
THE ACLU SUPPORTS H.R. 5283, THE DUE PROCESS ACT OF 2016
Over time, civil asset forfeiture has become particularly useful to the government in enforcing prohibition laws. Civil forfeiture was used extensively during alcohol prohibition. More recently, it has become a very popular tactic in prosecuting the drug war. The Department of Justice’s forfeiture fund grew from $93.7 million in 1980 to billions of dollars today. State governments tend to be less transparent. The Institute for Justice found in a 2015 report that state and local law enforcement are also responsible for seizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property annually.
In addition, a separate HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted last year found that the overwhelming majority of Americans are unfamiliar with civil asset forfeiture. When asked about specifics, 71 percent of respondents believed law enforcement should only be able to permanently seize property if the owner is charged with and also convicted of a crime.
Some of these seizures defy belief:
Tan Nguyen hopped in his car excited about $50,000 in casino winnings. That excitement faded when he saw police lights in the rearview mirror. A Nevada police officer suspicious of the man’s large sum of cash confiscated it, Forbes reports. Nguyen said the cop threatened to seize and tow his car if he spoke up about it. After hiring a lawyer, Nguyen was able to get his $50,000 back with attorney’s fees.
Matt Lee had his $2,400 cash confiscated from his car on a routine traffic stop. The worst part? It was taken by the same officer that targeted Nguyen: Deputy Lee Dove. In a shared settlement with Nguyen, Lee got his $2,400 back.
Deputy Dove Strikes Again
Almost three months later, Ken Smith was also pulled over for speeding. During the stop, Deputy Dove performed a warrant check and found a warrant for a Ken Smith. On that basis, Dove detained Smith. According to a lawsuit filed by Smith, the Ken Smith on the warrant had a different birthday and was black. The pulled-over Smith was white. As the lawsuit puts it, Smith “should have been cited for speeding and let go, if there was probable cause for speeding violations.” Instead, Smith was “unarrested” and allowed to leave with his car if he signed a waiver to surrender $13,800 in cash.
OHP Uses New Device To Seize Money During Traffic Stops
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that also allows them to seize money on prepaid cards. They’re taking seizures to a new level.
It’s called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and OHP began using 16 of them last month.
Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects a person may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan and seize money from prepaid cards. OHP stresses troopers do not do this during all traffic stops, only situations where they believe there is probable cause.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Subscribe: iTunes | Android |