The Forfeiture Racket

Police and prosecutors won't give up their license to steal.

Around 3 in the morning on January 7, 2009, a 22-year-old college student named Anthony Smelley was pulled over on Interstate 70 in Putnam County, Indiana. He and two friends were en route from Detroit to visit Smelley’s aunt in St. Louis. Smelley, who had recently received a $50,000 settlement from a car accident, was carrying around $17,500 in cash, according to later court documents. He claims he was bringing the money to buy a new car for his aunt.

The officer who pulled him over, Lt. Dwight Simmons of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, said that Smelley had made an unsafe lane change and was driving with an obscured license plate. When Simmons asked for a driver’s license, Smelley told him he had lost it after the accident. Simmons called in Smelley’s name and discovered that his license had actually expired. The policeman asked Smelley to come out of the car, patted him down, and discovered a large roll of cash in his front pocket, in direct contradiction to Smelley’s alleged statement in initial questioning that he wasn’t, in fact, carrying much money.

A record check indicated that Smelley had previously been arrested (though not charged) for drug possession as a teenager, so the officer called in a K-9 unit to sniff the car for drugs. According to the police report, the dog gave two indications that narcotics might be present. So Smelley and his passengers were detained and the police seized Smelley’s $17,500 cash under Indiana’s asset forfeiture law.

But a subsequent hand search of the car turned up nothing except an empty glass pipe containing no drug residue in the purse of Smelley’s girlfriend. Lacking any other evidence, police never charged anybody in the car with a drug-related crime. Yet not only did Putnam County continue to hold onto Smelley’s money, but the authorities initiated legal proceedings to confiscate it permanently.

Smelley’s case was no isolated incident. Over the past three decades, it has become routine in the United States for state, local, and federal governments to seize the property of people who were never even charged with, much less convicted of, a crime. Nearly every year, according to Justice Department statistics, the federal government sets new records for asset forfeiture. And under many state laws, the situation is even worse: State officials can seize property without a warrant and need only show “probable cause” that the booty was connected to a drug crime in order to keep it, as opposed to the criminal standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead of being innocent until proven guilty, owners of seized property all too often have a heavier burden of proof than the government officials who stole their stuff.

Municipalities have come to rely on confiscated property for revenue. Police and prosecutors use forfeiture proceeds to fund not only general operations but junkets, parties, and swank office equipment. A cottage industry has sprung up to offer law enforcement agencies instruction on how to take and keep property more efficiently. And in Indiana, where Anthony Smelley is still fighting to get his money back, forfeiture proceeds are enriching attorneys who don’t even hold public office, a practice that violates the U.S. Constitution.

Guilty Property, Innocent Owners

Technically, civil asset forfeiture proceedings are brought against the property itself, not the owner. Hence they often have odd case titles, such as U.S. v. Eight Thousand Eight Hundred and Fifty Dollars or U.S. v. One 1987 Jeep Wrangler. The government need only demonstrate that the seized property is somehow related to a crime, generally either by showing that it was used in the commission of the act (as with a car driven to and from a drug transaction, or a house from which drugs are sold) or that it was purchased with the proceeds.

Because the property itself is on trial, the owner has the status of a third-party claimant. Once the government has shown probable cause of a property’s “guilt,” the onus is on the owner to prove his innocence. The parents of a drug-dealing teenager, for instance, would have to show they had no knowledge the kid was using the family car to facilitate drug transactions. Homeowners have to show they were unaware that a resident was keeping drugs on the premises. Anyone holding cash in close proximity to illicit drugs may have to document that he earned the money legitimately.

When owners of seized property put up a legal fight (and the majority do not), the cases are almost always heard by judges, not juries. In some states forfeiture claimants don’t even have the right to a jury trial. But even in states where they do, owners tend to waive that right, because jury proceedings are longer and more expensive. Federal forfeiture claimants are technically guaranteed a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment, but can lose the right if they fail to reply in a timely manner to sometimes complicated government notices of seizure.

Federal asset forfeiture law dates back to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970, a law aimed at seizing profits earned by organized crime. In 1978 Congress broadened RICO to include drug violations. But it was the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 that made forfeiture the lucrative, widely used law enforcement tool it is today.

“The Crime Control Act did a few things,” says the Virginia-based defense attorney David Smith, author of the legal treatise Prosecution and Defense of Forfeiture Cases. “First, it corrected some poor drafting in the earlier laws. Second, it created two federal forfeiture funds, one in the Justice Department and one in the Treasury. And most important, it included an earmarking provision that gave forfeiture proceeds back to local law enforcement agencies that helped in a federal forfeiture.”

This last bit was key. “The thinking was that this would motivate police agencies to use the forfeiture provisions,” Smith says. “They were right. It also basically made law enforcement an interest group. They directly benefited from the law. Since it was passed, they’ve fought hard to keep it and strengthen it.”

The 1984 law lowered the bar for civil forfeiture. To seize property, the government had only to show probable cause to believe that it was connected to drug activity, or the same standard cops use to obtain search warrants. The state was allowed to use hearsay evidence—meaning a federal agent could testify that a drug informant told him a car or home was used in a drug transaction—but property owners were barred from using hearsay, and couldn’t even cross-examine some of the government’s witnesses. Informants, while being protected from scrutiny, were incentivized monetarily: According to the law, snitches could receive as much as one-quarter of the bounty, up to $50,000 per case.

According to a 1992 Cato Institute study examining the early results of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, total federal forfeiture revenues increased by 1,500 percent between 1985 and 1991. The Justice Department’s forfeiture fund (which doesn’t include forfeitures from customs agents) jumped from $27 million in 1985 to $644 million in 1991; by 1996 it crossed the $1 billion line, and as of 2008 assets had increased to $3.1 billion. According to the government’s own data, less than 20 percent of federal seizures involved property whose owners were ever prosecuted.

More than 80 percent of federal seizures are never challenged in court, according to Smith. To supporters of forfeiture, this statistic is an indication of the owners’ guilt, but opponents argue it simply reflects the fact that in many cases the property was worth less than the legal costs of trying to get it back. Under the 1984 law, forfeiture defendants can’t be provided with a court-appointed attorney, meaning an innocent property owner without significant means would have to find a lawyer willing to take his case for free or in exchange for a portion of the property should he succeed in winning it back. And to even get a day in court, owners were forced to post a bond equal to 10 percent of the value of their seized property.

The average Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) property seizure in 1998 was worth about $25,000. In 2000 a Justice Department source told the PBS series Frontline that this figure was also the cutoff under which most forfeiture attorneys advised clients that their cases wouldn’t be worth pursuing. So a law aimed at denying drug kingpins their ill-gotten millions ended up affecting mostly those with so little loot it didn’t even make sense to hire an attorney to win it back.

Police gradually came to view asset forfeiture as not just a way to minimize drug profits, or even to fill their own coffers, but as a tool to enforce maximum compliance on non-criminals. In one highly publicized example from the 1990s, Jason Brice nearly lost the motel he had bought and renovated in a high-crime area of Houston. At the request of local authorities, Brice hired private security, allowed police to patrol his property (at some cost to his business), and spent tens of thousands of dollars in other measures to prevent drug activity on the premises. But when local police asked Brice to raise his rates to deter criminals, he refused, saying it would put him out of business. Stepped up police harassment of his customers caused Brice to eventually terminate the agreement that had allowed them latitude on his property. In less than a month, local and federal officials tried to seize Brice’s motel on the grounds that he was aware of drug dealing taking place there. Brice eventually won, but only after an expensive, drawn-out legal battle.

By the late 1990s, stories such as Brice’s finally moved Congress to act. After a series of emotional hearings in 2000, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), authored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). The bill raised the federal government’s burden of proof in forfeiture cases from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence, the same standard as in other civil cases. It barred the government from using hearsay and allowed owners who won forfeiture challenges to obtain reimbursement for legal expenses.

The bill wasn’t perfect. Seizures made by customs agents, as opposed to the DEA or FBI, would still be governed by the old rules. Hyde (who died in 2007) wanted an even heavier burden of proof for the government, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases. That didn’t pass. Under CAFRA, the federal government could still take your property without proving beyond a reasonable doubt that any crime was committed, much less that you yourself had committed one. But at least the reforms made the process a bit more difficult.

Problem was, the 1984 law had already spawned dozens of imitators on the state level, and CAFRA applied only to the feds. Forfeiture had been sending money to police departments and prosecutors’ offices for 16 years, so even in the few states that passed laws to make the process more fair, officials found ways around them. Once the authorities have a license to steal, it turns out to be very difficult to revoke.

Present Punishment for Future Crimes

On February 4, 2009, Anthony Smelley got his first hearing before an Indiana judge. Smelley’s attorney, David Kenninger, filed a motion asking for summary judgment against the county, citing a letter from a Detroit law firm stating that the seized money indeed came from an accident settlement, not a drug transaction. Kenninger also argued that because there were no drugs in Smelley’s car, the state had failed to show the required “nexus” between the cash and illegal activity. Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley seemed to agree, hitting Christopher Gambill, who represented Putnam County, with some tough questions. That’s when Gambill made an argument that was remarkable even for a forfeiture case.

“You have not alleged that this person was dealing in drugs, right?” Judge Headley said.

“No,” Gambill responded. “We alleged this money was being transported for the purpose of being used to be involved in a drug transaction.”

Incredibly, Gambill was arguing that the county could seize Smelley’s money for a crime that hadn’t yet been committed. Asked in a phone interview to clarify, Gambill stands by the general principle. “I can’t respond specifically to that case,” he says, “but yes, under the state forfeiture statute, we can seize money if we can show that it was intended for use in a drug transaction at a later date.” (Smelley himself refused to be interviewed for this article.)

The New York–based attorney Steven Kessler, author of the legal treatise Civil and Criminal Forfeiture: Federal and State Practice, says he has never heard the “future crimes” argument. “Can you imagine any judge in America allowing an argument like that to stand?” Kessler says. “It’s obscene. It’s like something out of that movie Minority Report. We don’t punish people for crimes they haven’t yet committed.”

Smelley’s fight for his money would only get more bizarre. At the conclusion of the February hearing, Judge Headley temporarily granted the motion for summary judgment, ordering the county to return the money. But there was a catch. Under Indiana law, the county had an additional 10 days to amend its complaint to show a connection between the seized property and illegal activity. If after that 10-day period the state didn’t amend its complaint, or if the judge found the amendments insufficient, Smelley could retrieve his cash and be on his way.

But Headley would never rule on the amended complaint. Days after issuing summary judgment, Headley pulled himself off the case without explanation. Smelley’s case was then batted around Indiana county courts for months, before finally ending up in front of Special Judge David Bolk. On August 18, more than seven months after Smelley’s money was seized, Bolk overturned Headley’s summary judgment. The opinion was curt, and didn’t offer an explanation. Bolk ordered a civil forfeiture trial for November 13. The trial was then postponed again until January 29, 2010, due to congestion in the court system. That means Putnam County will have held Smelley’s money for more than a year before giving him the opportunity to argue that he should get it back.

‘Make the Bad Guys Pay!’

A survey of state and federal forfeiture since 2000 shows that CAFRA hasn’t stopped the exponential growth of government asset seizure. Adjusted for inflation, the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, which includes proceeds from forfeitures carried out by all federal agencies except Immigration and Customs Enforcement, grew from $1.3 billion in 2001 to $3.1 billion in 2008. (The total includes some money left over from previous years, but according to Smith, almost all of the money is doled out to local and federal agencies on an annual basis.) National Public Radio has reported that between 2003 and 2007, the amount of money seized by local law enforcement agencies enrolled in the federal forfeiture program tripled from $567 million to $1.6 billion. That doesn’t include property seized by local law enforcement agencies without involving federal authorities.

While the Hyde bill placed some limits on federal civil forfeiture, it eased the process of seizing property in criminal forfeiture cases. Criminal forfeiture requires a conviction, so the property owner at least has to be found guilty of a crime, but the potential for abuse is widespread here, too. For example, prosecutors can “substitute assets” if they believe a defendant has disposed of seizable property. A court will issue a money judgment based on an estimate of how much the defendant has made through criminal endeavors. In some federal districts, prosecutors can then collect by seizing property that they can’t prove was connected to any illegal activity.

Smith, the Virginia-based forfeiture specialist, says courts generally rubber-stamp the government’s estimate on substitute assets, putting the defendant on the hook for that amount the rest of his life. This practice can be particularly unfair in conspiracy cases, where unequal defendants can be conjoined under the doctrine of joint and several liability. If 10 defendants are convicted in a drug conspiracy case and a court enters a total money judgment for $10 million, all 10 are liable until the $10 million is paid in full. If the five most responsible parties are sent to prison for 40 years, the remaining five—be they mid-level dealers, foot soldiers, or a girlfriend who forwarded a few phone calls—are liable for the entire $10 million, no matter who actually got the money in the end. “The government is always going to go after the guy with the most money, regardless of culpability,” Smith says. “Even if he played only a small role in the conspiracy and earned everything he owns legitimately.”

Criminal forfeiture can also prevent defendants from effectively contesting the charges against them. When the DEA accuses a doctor of illegally prescribing pain medication, for example, one of the first actions it takes is to freeze his assets for possible forfeiture. Since most doctors make their entire living from their practice, nearly everything they own can be frozen. Many accused doctors therefore don’t have the resources to hire legal representation, much less experts to counter government assertions that they’re prescribing controlled substances outside the normal practice of medicine. Forfeiture makes it nearly impossible for them to mount a credible defense.

In addition to raising questions of fairness, forfeiture has warped the priorities of law enforcement agencies. In 2008 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives asked for bids from private contractors on 2,000 Leatherman pocket knives for its agents, to be inscribed with the phrase “Always Think Forfeiture,” a play on the agency’s traditional “ATF” initials. The agency rescinded the order after it was reported in the Idaho Statesman, but critics said it betrayed the ethic of an organization more interested in taking people’s property than in fighting crime.

Some police agencies come to view forfeiture not just as an occasional windfall for buying guns, police cars, or better equipment, but as a source of funding for basic operations. This is especially true with multijurisdictional drug task forces, some of which have become financially independent of the states, counties, and cities in which they operate, thanks to forfeiture and federal anti-drug grants.

In a 2001 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice, the University of Texas at Dallas criminologist John Worral surveyed 1,400 police departments around the country on their use of forfeiture and the way they incorporated seized assets into their budgets. Worral, who describes himself as agnostic on the issue, concluded that “a substantial proportion of law enforcement agencies are dependent on civil asset forfeiture” and that “forfeiture is coming to be viewed not only as a budgetary supplement, but as a necessary source of income.” Almost half of surveyed police departments with more than 100 law enforcement personnel said forfeiture proceeds were “necessary as a budget supplement” for department operations.

Such widespread use of forfeiture has created an industry of facilitators. Organizations such as the International Association for Asset Recovery sponsor conferences where law enforcement officials learn how to maximize their asset-seizing potential. They also offer certifications in forfeiture expertise. Advertising a Florida conference on its website in 2009, an outfit called Asset Recovery Watch (slogan: “Make the bad guys pay!”) assures budget-conscious police departments that federal law permits them to use forfeiture funds to send police officers away to forfeiture conferences for training.

Forfeiture may also undermine actual enforcement of the law. In a 1994 study reported in Justice Quarterly, criminologists J. Mitchell Miller and Lance H. Selva observed several police agencies that identified drug supplies but delayed making busts to maximize the cash they could seize, since seized cash is more lucrative for police departments than seized drugs. This strategy allowed untold amounts of illicit drugs to be sold and moved into the streets, contrary to the official aims of drug enforcement.

There is also a potential conflict between forfeiture and criminal prosecution. Smith says prosecutors rarely initiate civil forfeiture proceedings against someone who has been acquitted on criminal charges, although the law allows them to do so. “I think the feeling is that a jury would be very skeptical of that—that this person was acquitted in court and that to now try to take his property too is unfair,” he says. “If they don’t think a jury would be sympathetic, it isn’t worth their time to pursue it.” If a prosecutor pursues a criminal case, with its higher burden of proof, he risks losing the ability to take the suspect’s assets. If he drops the criminal case and just goes after the property with a case that is easier to prove, the suspect goes free, but the government gets to keep his stuff.

“There’s also the temptation for prosecutors to offer a plea on the criminal charges in exchange for forfeiting some of the property,” says Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm. “If you support the drug laws—and not all of us do—but if you support them, you have to question the incentives.”

Highway Robbery in Texas

The Supreme Court this spring will rule on Alvarez v. Smith, a challenge to Illinois’ forfeiture statute, which mostly mirrors the 1984 federal law—property can be seized without a warrant, retained using only probable cause; the government can use hearsay, defendants cannot; the burden of proof rests largely on those who have their stuff seized; and even victorious defendants cannot recover court costs or attorney fees.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to rule on any of those provisions. Instead it will consider a wrinkle that allows the state to keep property for up to six months before giving the owner his first day in court. Innocent property owners can be kept waiting more than a year before getting a decision, a predicament that critics say imposes an unconstitutional burden, particularly in cases where the police have seized someone’s car.

In other states, the problem isn’t so much the strict provisions on the books, but rather the relevant law’s ambiguity, which can give police and prosecutors too much leeway. Tiny Tenaha, Texas, population 1,046, made national news in 2008 after a series of reports alleged that the town’s police force was targeting black and Latino motorists along Highway 84, a busy regional artery that connects Houston to Louisiana’s casinos, ensuring a reliable harvest of cash-heavy motorists. The Chicago Tribune reported that in just the three years between 2006 and 2008, Tenaha police stopped 140 drivers and asked them to sign waivers agreeing to hand over their cash, cars, jewelry, and other property to avoid arrest and prosecution on drug charges. If the drivers agreed, police took their property and waved them down the highway. If they refused, even innocent motorists faced months of legal hassles and thousands of dollars in attorney fees, usually amounting to far more than the value of the amount seized. One local attorney found court records of 200 cases in which Tenaha police had seized assets from drivers; only 50 were ever criminally charged.

National Public Radio reported in 2008 that in Kingsville, Texas, a town of 25,000, “Police officers drive high-performance Dodge Chargers and use $40,000 digital ticket writers. They’ll soon carry military-style assault rifles, and the SWAT team recently acquired sniper rifles.” All this equipment was funded with proceeds from highway forfeitures.

Texas prosecutors benefited too. Former Kimble County, Texas, District Attorney Ron Sutton used forfeiture money to pay the travel expenses for him and 198th District Judge Emil Karl Pohl to attend a conference in Hawaii. It was OK, the prosecutor told NPR, because Pohl approved the trip. (The judge later resigned over the incident.) Shelby County, Texas, District Attorney Lynda Kay Russell, whose district includes Tenaha, used forfeiture money to pay for tickets to a motorcycle rally and a Christmas parade. Russell is also attempting to use money from the forfeiture fund to pay for her defense against a civil rights lawsuit brought by several motorists whose property she helped take. In 2005, the district attorney in Montgomery County, Texas, had to admit that his office spent forfeiture money on an office margarita machine. The purchase got attention when the office won first place in a margarita competition at the county fair.

While police departments have been benefiting from forfeiture policies for years, funneling the money to prosecutors raises even more problems. “Police merely seize the property,” David Smith says. “They don’t determine which cases go forward. It’s a violation of due process if the prosecutor, the person actually deciding whether or not to bring a forfeiture case, benefits somehow from the decision. You can’t have the same person deciding which cases to take also directly benefiting from those cases.”

Smith and the Institute for Justice’s Scott Bullock both believe language in the 1982 Supreme Court decision Marshall v. Jerrico Inc. suggests that if a law allowing prosecutors’ offices to benefit from forfeiture proceeds were challenged in federal court, it might be struck down. “Jerrico actually found that a government agency can be reimbursed from the defendant’s assets for the cost of an investigation,” says Bullock. “But in dicta, the Court indicated that it would strike down a law that allowed a particular public official to benefit from bringing a case.” The Institute for Justice brought such a challenge to New Jersey’s forfeiture law, which allows proceeds to flow into the general budgets of district attorneys. The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the argument. So far no one has used Jerrico to challenge a state forfeiture law in federal court.

“I think that’s where it needs to happen,” Smith says. “State courts are made up of former prosecutors and other people who have connections to the community. No one wants to be the one who puts an end to all of this. I think it will take a federal court challenge to do it.”

Not every state has kept its old laws intact. Kessler, the New York attorney and forfeiture expert, says 27 states have adopted CAFRA-style reforms. Some go even further, requiring that the proceeds from forfeited property go directly to the state general fund or to a fund earmarked for a specific purpose, such as education.

But here, too, things aren’t always as they seem. In Missouri, for example, forfeited property is supposed to go to the state’s public schools. But in 1999 a series of reports in The Kansas City Star showed how Missouri police agencies were circumventing state law. After seizing property, local police departments would turn it over to the DEA or another federal agency. Under federal law, the federal agency can keep 20 percent or more of the money; the rest, up to 80 percent, goes back to the local police department that conducted the investigation. None of the money in these cases goes to the schools.

The Kansas City Star investigation made national news at the time, but Kessler says the practice of circumventing earmarking through federal “adoption” is now common all over the country. “It happens a lot,” he says. “It clearly goes against the intent of the state legislatures that passed these laws, but I don’t know of any state that has made a serious effort to prevent it from happening.”

‘It’s Blatantly Unconstitutional’

Timothy Bookwalter, the elected chief prosecutor for Putnam County, Indiana, did not represent the county in its effort to keep Anthony Smelley’s money. Nor did anyone else in his office. Instead, the case was handled by Christopher Gambill, a local attorney in private practice. Gambill manages civil forfeiture cases for several Indiana counties, and he gets to keep a portion of what he wins in court. “My contingency for my own county is a quarter; for the others it’s a third,” Gambill says.

The concept is alarming. If allowing public prosecutors to benefit from forfeiture funds brushes up against due process, allowing an unaccountable private attorney to run forfeiture cases and keep a portion of the winnings rams a steamroller straight through the notion. “This is scandalous,” Kessler says. “It’s blatantly unconstitutional.”

Gambill not only argues and briefs Putnam County forfeiture cases; he also determines which cases the county pursues in the first place. That means nongovernmental forfeiture attorneys are making criminal justice decisions that directly bolster their incomes. “It’s really bad policy,” David Smith says. “I also don’t see how it could possibly be legal.”

Mark Rutherford, chairman of the Indiana Public Defender Commission, says he isn’t aware of any court challenges to the practice. “It’s just sort of accepted here that this is the way things are,” Rutherford says. “There are attorneys who have amassed fortunes off of these cases.” The office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller referred inquiries about this contracting system to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, which represents the state’s prosecutors. That organization did not return several calls seeking comment.

Like Missouri, Indiana theoretically allocates asset forfeiture proceeds to its public schools. In fact, that requirement is spelled out in Indiana’s constitution. But there are ways around this restriction. “If you can get someone to settle without having to go to court, under state law that technically isn’t a forfeiture,” Gambill says. “So it can all go to the police and prosecutors’ offices. After the contingency, of course.”

‘We All Get Greedy’

The country’s lurch to the political left won’t necessarily mean a greater protection for civil liberties in forfeiture cases. Asset seizure, in fact, is one area where conservatives tend to take a less law-enforcement-friendly position than liberals. “Conservatives value property,” Kessler says, “so they tend to be sympathetic to property owners in these cases. If you look back at the Supreme Court cases putting limits on forfeiture, most were written by conservative justices. And of course Rep. Hyde was a conservative Republican.”

Don’t be surprised, then, if forfeiture power expands in the coming years, particularly with respect to financial fraud, tax evasion, and other white-collar crimes. “It’s always a pendulum, swinging back and forth,” Kessler says. “I think we are in the pro-government phase now.”

But over the long term, Kessler is more optimistic about reform. Expanding unjust forfeiture laws to include new classes of people makes the members of those classes aware of just how unfair those laws can be. And the government always overplays its hand. “We all get greedy, and the government is no exception,” he says. “I think that in this climate, they’ll go for too much, and then the courts will rein them in. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way it has to happen.”

As for Anthony Smelley: As of this writing, more than a year after the police took $17,500 of his money, he has yet to have his day in court.

Radley Balko ( is a senior editor at reason.

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  • ||

    Radley: Congratulations on your excellent and comprehensive piece on asset forfeiture. Admiralty rules and procedures apply to the federal In Rem proceedings brought against seized assets. Like Capt. Jack Aubrey in Patricl O'Brian's "Letters of Marque", local cops now cruise the highways instead of the high seas in search of carriers of contraband. Added to the due process violations you describe are frequent violations of the Fourth Amendment committed by these new "publicteers" as they hail, heave to, board and confiscate as "prize" vehicles and other property of those who have the misfortune of appearing suspicious. There is some, but not much, Fourth Amendment protection here via the exclusionary rule but, as you point out, most victims do not have the resources to hire lawyers to protect their interests.

  • ||

    Wow, I have to admit you do indeed raise some valid points


  • Meathead||

    As usual, so do you.

  • bigbootylove||

    Someone save this country ! OH GOD !

  • Rick H.||

    Moderators: Please remove this spammer freak's link sig. It's not a call for censorship. He can still post his non sequiturs under 700 different names.

  • Suki||

    Good Morning reason!

  • Ratko||

    Everytime you write that it makes me wonder what it would be like if people in general started each day with a clean slate, a positive attitude, and with an intention to practice reasoned thinking as first order of the day.

    Wow, what a world that would be.

  • Suki||

    A lovely world it is!

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    Good article.

    I'm familiar with the abuses detailed here. While I've never been arrested or had my own property confiscated, my tattooist had her home, three cars, and $15,000 in cash confiscated because she was found with a J in her ride, allowing the cops to search her home (apparently) where they found 2 oz of hydro.

    It's been 7 months and she still hasn't been charged, but she saw where her fully restored 1972 Nova has already been auctioned off...

  • ||

    It's amazing to me there aren't more dead cops.

  • ||

    American has become a nation of cowards run by bullies.

  • Ratko||

    “If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again. You think the death penalty is a good idea? Persuade your fellow citizens to adopt it. You want a right to abortion? Persuade your fellow citizens and enact it. That's flexibility.”
    - Antonin Scalia

    Blaming cops is a dead end, it does no good to further muddy already muddy with idiotic hatreds. Where are your fellow citizens on this one? Where are your legislators who gave the green light to begin with? The attorneys play no part in this? What of the companies profitting by offering classes encouraging it?

    You don't honestly believe any good would come from murdering a bunch of people do you?

    The ultimate responsibility in this comes back on us. It's people like Radley Balko bringing attention to the matter that short of legislation does the most good possible.

    We have a republic, that means we are responsible for our own rule. We don't benefit from murdering ourselves in a republic.

    Scalia told us how it is, we need to change the rules, it's up to us, it's our responsibility.

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||


  • NordicOnTheEdge||

    "Scalia told us how it is, we need to change the rules..."

    The rub of it is that we DO change the rules, yet those who are charged with enforcing the rules ignore the will of their employers (the people) and do as they want.

    "Los Angeles City Council Votes To Close 80% Of Marijuana Dispensaries"

    "You don't honestly believe any good would come from murdering a bunch of people do you?"

    Often times when faced with growing tyranny and abuse of power by those in power, and when the halls of justice prove fuitless as a result of the greed and corruption of those learned in jurisprudence, just shooting the bastards is the only reasonable course of action.

    Akin to lancing the boil before sespis takes root in the body politic.

    Sadly, it may indeed be too late for such measured action to salvage THIS Republic.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    You don't honestly believe any good would come from murdering a bunch of people do you?

    Why not?

    Threats of murder and violence worked well in preventing Yale University Press from publishing offensive cartoons.

  • ||

    They found a joint in her vehicle so that gives them justification to search her home? WTF? Something ain't right with that.

  • jk||

    Ever notice that police seem indifferent to crimes where there is actually a victim, and are more interested in victimless crimes?

    It totally makes sense in that there is no profit to be made in punishing someone for harming the life, liberty or property of another citizen, but there is profit to be made when a victimless crime has been committed.

    What a perversion of justice.

  • kodiac1221||

    Where's the profit in crimes with victims!! I mean come on, if the mafioso-government cant make a profit they wont ever be able to afford to pay those cushy salaries of their footsoldier-employees

  • ||

    Lots of $ to be made by putting people in prison or on probation. Many jobs in those industries depend on an ever-expanding pool of convicts.

  • Pedro||

    dont all crimes have a victim in the end?

  • ||

    I'm absolutely certain this is a great article. I'm afraid to read it.

  • Leif||

    It's come to this, hasn't it. :-(

  • Pope Jimbo||

    Has any prosecutor ever gone after all the assets of a cop who has been convicted of taking bribes?

    Here in Mpls, we have a "Metro Gang Task Force" that was shut down because they had become so corrupt. Anyone want to take bets on whether local prosecutors will go after all of their assets?

  • SkepticalTexan||

    If you think Smelley's forfeiture is an isolated occurance, pick up a Wall Street Journal any day of the week. There you will find page after page of property subject to forfeiture listed in 4 point font. Public notice requirements for forfeitures by the BATFE, FBI, Treasury, DEA and a few other Federal agencies create a lot of advertising revenue for the WSJ.

    Occasionally, however, the property is proven to be innocent of a crime. My next-door neighbor's mother, an 85-year-old nursing home resident with Alzheimers, had about $25,000 seized when the Feds suspected her of financing terrorists. Her son, a priest in Canada, had her power of attorney and instructed her bank to wire transfer funds to the nursing home in payment for services. Apparently his foreign domicile and unusual name triggered a flag that caused the Feds to seize the transferred funds and freeze her accounts. After a few months, however, the Feds found the money innocent of criminal intent (If that sentence sounds ridiculous, it's only because that's how the Fed's allegation worded.) My neighbors were upset about this to say the least.

    This incident was not all bad, however. As Obama would say, it created a teachable moment. After years of discussing libertarian politics with these Republican-leaning neighbors, they now lean libertarian. As for myself, I've moved from libertarian to anarcho-capitalist. No government is better than this gang of thieves writ large.

  • Xeones||

    The only reason la Cosa Nostra is illegal is because Uncle Sugar don't like competition.

  • TheNino85||

    It's stuff like this that makes me stick around the libertarian movement, despite all the crazies inherent to it. (Hayek is awesome, homeopathy is not.)

    How can anyone possibly vote on this law and not think 5 seconds about the consequences?

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's stuff like this that makes me want to go to law school to become a lawyer who fights this kind of crap.

  • jk||

    Consequences are excuses to write more laws that have consequences that are excuses to write more laws that have consequences that are excuses to write more laws....

    The end result is the complete socialization of society by a totalitarian government.

    So I guess it depends on your point of view. If you're one of those "We are government" types, then you have no reason to consider consequences because they're just annoyances to be taken care of by another law.

    If you believe in individual liberty, you're screwed.

  • Leif||

    Unintended consequences? That's crazy talk!

  • DRATER||

    The kleptocracy lives! Great article; a few of my favorite moments:

    "Under federal law, the federal agency can keep 20 percent or more of the money; the rest, up to 80 percent, goes back to the local police department that conducted the investigation. None of the money in these cases goes to the schools."

    Don't drug dealers use a similar method to launder their money?

    "This is especially true with multijurisdictional drug task forces, some of which have become financially independent of the states, counties, and cities in which they operate, thanks to forfeiture and federal anti-drug grants."
    "When the DEA accuses a doctor of illegally prescribing pain medication, for example, one of the first actions it takes is to freeze his assets for possible forfeiture."
    "The average Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) property seizure in 1998 was worth about $25,000"

    Combine those three facts, and what do you get? A roving band of thieves, financially independent and barely restrained by law, who go after the lowest hanging fruit on the tree. The "drug warriors" won't every really fight the WOD - they can't afford it!

  • CaptainSmartass||

    This is another reason the "War on Drugs" cannot be won: the people tasked with fighting the war are getting fat from the profits it generates.

  • jimmy||

    Did anyone happen to see the face of the opposition to legalizing marijuana in California during debate on AB 390? Law enforcement, law enforcement, and a few government lackeys. Marijuana prohibition is EASY money for law enforcement, the court system (lawyers and government employees), and the prison system. Do these people have no conscience?

  • oaktownadam||

    People involved in the marijuana trade are FAR less likely to shoot back.

  • GaLibertarian||

    Good lord. You would "Smelley" would have changed his name.

  • ||

    Are you questioning my authori-tah?!

  • ||

    Asset forfeiture sans conviction gives incentives to cops and prosecutors to shake down innocent folks.

    Here's one example that really pissed me off.

  • Steven||

    What do you expect in that case, a black guy with pot in his house and money. That is all the evidence you need.

  • Ratko||

    It's not a racial thing, but if you want to make it one let's get real here, Mexicans are far harder hit, they often pool legally earned money with couriers to be carried home for distribution to their families. It's a regular racket seizing that money on it's way back home. They're so used to corruption in government back home they just accept the losses as a fact of life and seldom attempt to recover even when it's tens of thousands of dollars. The authorities know this making it a very sure and easy haul.

    Still it just dilutes the issue when you try to make this crap racial. Injustice is injustice, this crime is one of opportunity, not some kind of damn race based crap. Many of those seizing assets are Blacks and Hispanics themselves and many being victimized are Whites. This lets the air out of race based arguments that serve only to help those committing the wrongs by strengthening division among us.

  • ||

    Makes sense. The fact they they get to bust more colored people is just icing on the authoritah-cake.

  • Nick||

    Wonderful article. I remember Louisiana having an big problem with this as well.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    Wow, I have to admit you do indeed raise some valid points


    Glory and Praise to my Anonymous Lord and Savior, the Anon-Bot!! With Liberty and Anonymity for All!!

  • oaktownadam||

    The anon-bot is always polite, you've got to give him that.

  • ||

    On his Agitator blog Radley mentions a very recent Mississippi case in which local police stopped a semi truck and found over $600,000 in cash. First reports indicate that an officer observed erratic driving and pulled the rig over. A drug sniffing dog was brought to the scene and "alerted." This, according to case law, gave the police probable cause to search without a warrant. This, in turn, led to the discovery of the cash stash (no drugs apparently).
    This much cash gives rise to a "presumption" of illegal activity and, if the state chooses to follow civil forfeiture proceedings -- or turn it over to the DEA to start the federal "prize" process -- then the burden will be on any "innocent owner" to come forward with a documented claim to the money. If not, the cash is "condemned" and the the law enforcement agencies share the goodies.
    Once the DEA gives notice of the administrative forfeiture process there is a limited time frame in which claims to the money must be asserted. If they are not, then the money is forfeited without the need for formal in rem court procedures.
    In other words, quick access to competent legal services is vital or innocent owners will find themselves SOL.
    With over half a million dollars in cash in a semi there is not likely to be a credible "innocent owner" claimant. Even so, there may be a basis upon which to challenge the legality of the seizure under the 4th Amendment (slim though it may be). As in criminal cases, illegally seized evidence is not admissible in "quasi-criminal" forfeiture proceedings.

  • Steven||

    With that much money it is pretty obvious that it is drug money, don't you think? If he proves it is his he is OK.

  • jesse||

    Wrong! They should have to prove that it isn't his, not the other way around.

  • jk||

    When charged with a victimless crime, a crime against The State, you are guilty until proven innocent.

  • jesse||

    I understand that this is how it works but i am saying that it is bull shit.

  • jk||

    moral of the story: don't get caught!

  • jesse||

    Oh and fuck the state.

  • Bruce N. Stein||

    I just wanted to write and say thank you for an incredible article. It obviously took a great deal of effort and time to write and I appreciate it tremendously.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    There is no God but the Anonymity Bot, and Pingback is his prophet.

  • Ratko||

    "The country’s lurch to the political left won’t necessarily mean a greater protection for civil liberties in forfeiture cases."

    Socialist/Communist philosophy is the most materialistic ideology the world has ever known and there's actually some doubt on this? The whole philosophy is based on the idea that stealing from one to give to another is the holy grail that cures all social woes. This should speak quite clearly on it's own.

    The only bigger threat to this republic than the right is the left. Truly a sad situation, one that often leaves me with no option but to side with one tyrant to avoid being even more quickly and thoroughly destroyed by an even bigger tyrant.

    That being said, I'm in agreement with the notion it may very well take this swing to left to get those with more clout having a little taste of the poison themselves before anything will be done on this one. You'd think seeing the illness advance to insane eminent domain seizures would've been enough already, Apparently we aren't bright enough to make that connection.

    What a disgrace our citizens in general know so little about our nation and our bedrock founding documents that it would have to play out like this.

  • ||

    You are right about people needing a taste of their own poison.
    Only then will they understand how terrible their conplacency is.
    The left & the right have their share of these people.
    I guess in many ways it is true that to understand the suffering of another, you must suffer so yourself.

  • ||

    People taste their own poison all the time and don't even know it. How else can you explain the complete lack of anger when people see 30% of their paycheck stolen from them each and every week?

  • ||

    How else can you explain the complete lack of anger when people see 30% of their paycheck stolen from them each and every week?

    There's no lack of anger (cf. Party, Tea, 2009) among those to whom this actually happens. But bear in mind how much more "progressive" our tax system has become over the past 10 years. Only about half the working adults in the country actually pay any significant chunk to the Feds.

  • ||

    I only read the first page and it made me sick.
    Well, maybe some people would reconsider their support for a 'minimal' state that gets to decide what 'justice' is.

  • ||

    And then there is just plain seizure, a.k.a., "rendition for evidence." A couple of years ago, all the silver backing up the Liberty Dollar was seized by the Federal government as "evidence" in its case against the LD principals. That case still drags on while the people who actually OWN the silver, the people who held paper Liberty Dollar notes or their electronic equivalents, must do without their justly acquired property.

    This is an outrage. The government did not need to keep all that silver as evidence. They could have kept some pieces owned by the defendants and used sworn affidavits, photographs, and other records to establish the existence of the evidence in court. Early on, they could have ordered the silver to be returned to those who owned it. But a couple of years down the road, the legitimate owners of the property are still twisting in the wind, with no recourse, except perhaps to sue the government, entailing the expense of legal assistance, not to mention time and effort wasted. I heard a rumor that the government was making plans to AUCTION OFF that "evidence" after holding it for however arbitrarily long suited their purposes.

    Harpers did a story on the Liberty Dollar situation in their January 2010 issue. I'm surprised that Reason hadn't beaten them to the punch. Why doesn't Reason cover this shameful story from a libertarian point of view?

  • Mike T||

    Anyone with a Digg account should vote this up:

  • Jimmy 'Crack' Corn||

    Come on people, take responsibility for your votes and/or complacency. We put the legislators into office. We did this to ourselves.

  • ||


  • HeadTater||

    Someone should figure out how to use RICO against the government. The only trouble would be finding a libertarian district attorney (that, my friends, is one of the biggest oxymorons out there).

  • Joe M||

    I shouldn't really be shocked by anything that happens in that great "Land of the Free" of yours but it seems that I can never overestimate the hypocrisy and fundamental lawlessness of the USA. And you have the gall to try and tell other people about human rights and the rule of law.

    Where I live the assets of criminals are also seized - after they have been convicted and the appeals process has been exhausted! In other words, following due process. Some of your police and judiciary, like that fellow in Maricopa County and the prosecutor who destroys kids in order to save them, would be breaking rocks for a living over here instead of being elected over and over again.

    Your public officials, for whom you The People are responsible, seem to take any and all opportunities to debase your laws and to subvert your constitution (for which, by the way, I have the greatest of respect).

    Talk is cheap. When are you Yanks actually going to do something to liberate yourselves.

  • Jennifer L. ||

    In Tennessee, if a husband uses his wife's car to solicit sex from a prostitute, the car can be forfeited even if he is not on the title or if it is an asset acquired as marital property.

  • ||

    Radley, thanks for the time and effort on this. Depressing, but excellent information. Unfortunately, now I'm going to try to go to bed...

    'night, Reason!

  • ||

    there was a time when law enforcement held it's integrity, but throughout, just as many other public office seats, corruption is leading the way by far, so when you see a criminal? look at our public officials at a glance, which is of the far evil? coupled with cops lies on the stand just to get a conviction, it's no wonder why our society is at it's worse, in my opinion

  • ||

    Spare me the "golden age" pap. Law Enforcement is exponentially more professional and better trained than in ANY time of our history. The era of the 60's-80's were rampant with cases of corruption. The "golden age" argument is easy identification of a person who is ignorant of history.

    The "pine for the better days" crap is simply that..crap. There were no "better days" only different days.

  • ||

    Tom, Dear, when you say

    "Law Enforcement is exponentially more professional and better trained..."

    are you suggesting that these days are better than the old days?

  • ||

  • ev||

    Hey, I know Mark Rutherford!

    I did some work for the LP in Indiana and we talked. I wrote an essay/report on the economic damages of enacting a smoking ban and he used several of my arguments when speaking to the legislature.

  • ||

    Please note that without any arrest record and with no clean pipe the outcome would be the same. All the police need is for the dog to react. Since over 80% of all US money has cocaine reside on it, the dog will ALWAYS find drug residue. The money is "arrested" even if the owner is never held. In the United States of America, the police can take your cash money from you anywhere, anytime.

  • Anonymous||

    Perhaps a way for the victims of these abuses of power to get legal representation is to sue the officers, D.A. and jurisdiction for slander/libel as they are making a non-provable claim that the property is the result of, or connected to, a crime and so the individual it is taken from is a criminal. Since they cannot prove the claim of a criminal connection it should be possible to make a valid claim of slander/libel. INAL so I don't know if it would be successful but a multi-million dollar lawsuit for defamation of character or the like is better able to attract a lawyer willing to work for a contengency fee.

    Usually police are protected from lawsuits related to their work but since the victim is not even arrested in most of these situations the slander is not directly related to the officers job but simply an attempt to justify the theft. In the case where the prosecutor is attempting to justify it because it could be used to buy drugs in the future means he is adding another slander that the money's owner is going to attempt to commit that crime in the future without any reasonable means of proving it.

  • ||

    "Perhaps a way for the victims of these abuses of power to get legal representation is to sue the officers, D.A. and jurisdiction for slander/libel "

    That may even work! a parallel universe.

  • ||

    This is the type of thing that should be looked on more in the media. Which do you think will get better results writing to the feds or writing to the state.

  • ||

    And so the war on drugs continues to erode our rights and our society itself. If drugs were the problem, the problem could be solved in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable cost. Leave all the laws regarding drugs on the books, with a new exception. Create government funded drug dispensaries with free drugs for any one wanting them. They have to be consumed on the premises. The consumer cannot drive to or from the dispensary. Thats it. However, I don't think stopping drugs is the goal. I think all the anti-drug initiatives are to support the pursuit of power and money coveted by governments and those in private industry selling to them.

  • ||

    1) never carry large amounts of cash,wire it ahead.
    2)Use pay as you go credit cards with low limits like $500.
    3)Drive a well kept vehicle.Inspect it every day.keep spare light and tools to change them in trunk.Keep car clean inside and out.
    4)Dress average, don't look poor,but not rich either.
    5)Try not to travel at night,at least 9 PM, before the drunks hit the road.
    6)If traffic slows,take a hint and stay in line,all it might take is for a state police to see you pull out and around to get you pulled over.
    7)When stopping for anything, keep you attitude in check, the locals might call the cops just because you were loud etc...and 50 miles later how would you know who call the cops?
    8)Quiet,but cheerful goes along way.

    Yours truly has driven the roads for 20 yrs.Live and learn.

  • ||

    You'd think we'd living under a fucking police state.

  • Leif||

    Much of your advice seems taken from a lawless society where one must beware of brigands. Hmm.

  • ||

    If you are one of those people who like to pay cash for everything, then it would behoove you to get a storage box mounted to your car frame that has a stout lock on it. Then put your cash in there.
    And always refuse a search when pulled over, it never benefits you.

  • ||

    Amen to that. NEVER consent to a search even though the price may be a traffic ticket instead of a warning.

  • Edwin||

    OK - these asset forfeiture laws are stupid and unconstitutional - but the first story CLEARLY does actually involve drugs. Nobody smokes tobacco out of a glass pipe - and just because tests on the pipe don't show drugs, doesn't mean the drug dog was wrong. There may not be any drugs directly on the pipe itself, but you can bet your ass the dog can smell those lingering odors from other things in the car or the interior of the car itself.

    You're not going to convince the general public that a law is repeatedly being abused by picking the examples where it is indeed used for its intended purpose (hindering drug trafficking). Great job, Reason.

  • The Foreclosure Racket||

    It's not just the government. Private corporations will also seize property if given the chance.

    Last year, [HOA attorney Tom] Newton, who was working for another homeowners association, foreclosed on an elderly disabled couple, Dan and Elaine lambert, because they hadn’t paid $380 in HOA fees.

    At the time he said he felt justified in foreclosing on struggling homeowners who are only a few hundred dollars behind on their HOA dues.

    “I feel comfortable in taking those steps necessary to enforce my client’s legal rights,” said Newton at the time. “And if that means that ultimately somebody may go through this foreclosure process, it is unfortunate. But it is a consequence of their own making.”

    In some states, homeowners association can take away residents' houses if they do not abide by the association's rules.

    Winona Blevins, an elderly widow who lived in a planned community in Houston called Champions, was astonished when a constable came to her door one morning and told her he had a court order to evict her.

    It turned out that the homeowners association had sold the house out from under her because she owed $876 in dues. Blevins says she didn't even know her home had been sold: "I had no inkling. Absolutely no idea. None."

    Blevins had paid cash for her home and had lived there for 15 years. But the homeowners association says she ignored notices they sent telling her she was behind with her dues. But apparently many of the notices had been wrongly addressed to her long deceased husband, who had never even lived in the house.

    Blevins says mail did come to her house addressed to her husband, but she threw it away thinking it was junk mail. She says no one from the community association ever called her or came to her home to tell her there was a problem. Instead, the board turned the matter over to their attorneys, who tacked on thousands of dollars in legal fees and recommended foreclosing on the home to collect.

    The association sold Blevins' home at public auction without her knowledge, then had constables evict her with no notice. "They took everything. They said I could take one change of clothing, one. And they took everything else. Everything," she remembers.

  • Driver X|| "Dirty Money: Asset Seizures and Forfeitures" (part 3 of 4)

    Deputy Has Midas Touch in Asset Seizures
    by John Burnett
    Listen Now [7 min 44 sec]
    Third installment of a four-part series
    All Things Considered, June 17, 2008

    Chief Deputy Eddie Ingram is a devout believer in highway traffic stops... When drivers are stopped for moving violations, they shouldn't be treated simply as speeders — they should be regarded as possible felons.


    But it's the money couriers who have made Ingram famous in law enforcement circles across the South. He calculates that he and the officers he has supervised have discovered more than $11 million in drug assets in the past 15 years. Much like the rules for treasure hunters, police agencies that make a seizure can keep up to 80 percent of it, and many police agencies have grown to rely on confiscated drug money.

    "If you get money, God bless America," Ingram says. "It's a wonderful thing. Taking drug money and using it for the good that the taxpayers don't have to pay is the best thing in the world. But that ain't what our sole purpose in life is. If all I wanted to do was get money, I know how to get out there and get all the money I want."


    Stress-induced Indicators

    Later, Ingram climbs into his white Ford Crown Victoria and heads out
    onto U.S. Highway 431 — the main north-south thoroughfare through
    Barbour County.

    "I look for things that just are different, and there's no one way to
    explain it, there's no one indicator. I just look for people that try
    to fit in that make themselves stand out," he says.

    Without giving away his secrets, here's one thing Ingram looks for: If
    the speed limit is 65 mph, most people will drive 75 mph. But someone
    wanted by the law will go 65 or less, and avoid eye contact with a cop
    who pulls up alongside. Ingram calls them "stress-induced indicators."


  • Michael Ejercito||

    I do not oppose asset forfeiture in principle, as long as the state has the burden of proof with a preponderance of evidence.

  • ||

    There was a time when the people of France grew quite discontented with how their country was being run. Finally, they all decided to come together and 'take care of business' themselves. Their sentiments were appreciated even by the national military, who ended up joining with the people, and...voila! It worked!

  • ||

    One of the things defendants should be attacking are the dogs. Blind testing shows dogs aren't reacting to the smell of drugs, they're reacting in anticipation of their master's pleasure. Assuming dogs do things for human reasons is foolish. Dogs do things for dog reasons, like pleasing the pack alpha.

  • ||

    Most property and business owners that defend their assets against Government Civil Forfeiture claim an “innocent owner defense.” This defense can become a criminal prosecution trap for both guilty and innocent property owners. Any fresh denial to the government when questioned about committing a crime “even when you did not do it” can “involuntarily waive” your right to assert in your defense—the “Criminal Statute of Limitations” has passed for prosecution. Any fresh denial of guild, even 30 years after a crime was committed may allow Government prosecutors to use old and new evidence, including information discovered during a Civil Asset Forfeiture Proceeding to launch a criminal prosecution. For that reason many innocent property and business owners are reluctant to defend their property and businesses from Government Civil Asset Forfeiture. Re: waiving Criminal Statute of Limitations: see USC18, Sec.1001, James Brogan V. United States. N0.96-1579.

    There are over 200 U.S. laws and violations mentioned in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 and the Patriot Act that can subject property to civil asset forfeiture. Under federal civil forfeiture laws, a person or business need not be charged with a crime for government to forfeit their property. In the U.S. private security companies and their operatives work so closely with law enforcement to forfeit property—providing intelligence information, they appear to merge with police.

    Under the USA Patriot Act, witnesses can be kept hidden while being paid part of the assets they cause to be forfeited. The Patriot Act specifically mentions using Title 18USC asset forfeiture laws: those laws include a provision in Rep. Henry Hyde’s 2000 bill HR 1658—for “retroactive civil asset forfeiture” of “assets already subject to government forfeiture”, meaning "property already tainted by crime" provided “the property” was already part of or “later connected” to a criminal investigation in progress" when HR.1658 passed. That can apply to more than two hundred federal laws and violations.

    Just recently Obama signed Executive Order EO 12425 that included authorizing INTERPOL to act within the United States without being subject to 4th Amendment Search and Seizure." Obama’s executive order will allow U.S. police to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by working with INTERPOL in criminal and Civil Asset Forfeiture investigations. After the Patriot Act passed, several European Countries entered into Asset Forfeiture Sharing Agreements with the U.S. It is problematic INTERPOL working with U.S. law enforcement and private government contractors will want access to telecom/NSA and other government wiretaps perhaps illegal, to secure evidence to arrest Americans and or civilly forfeit their homes, inheritances, intellectual property and businesses under Title 18USC and other laws. Thanks to Obama, U.S. Police can now use INTERPOL to circumvent the Fourth Amendment to share in assets seized from Americans.

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on...the Bible's books were written by people with very different order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it's literally a labyrinth, that's no joke.

  • omega||

    Just recently Obama signed Executive Order EO 12425 that included authorizing INTERPOL to act within the United States without being subject to 4th Amendment Search and Seizure." Obama’s executive order will allow U.S. police to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by working with INTERPOL in criminal and Civil Asset Forfeiture investigations. After the Patriot Act passed, several European Countries entered into Asset Forfeiture Sharing Agreements with the U.S. It is problematic INTERPOL working with U.S. law enforcement and private government contractors will want access to telecom/NSA and other government wiretaps perhaps illegal, to secure evidence to arrest Americans and or civilly forfeit their homes, inheritances, intellectual property and businesses under Title 18USC andreplica omega other laws. Thanks to Obama, U.S. Police can now use INTERPOL to circumvent the Fourth Amendment to share in assets seized from Americans.

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  • weber barbecue ||

    Nice posting!
    I read the whole story, and I became interested of it. Nice news story shared.
    I just felt pity to the innocent Anthony Smelley and his friend. I am just sad to know that these incidences are quite usual. How do the police solve this kind of case? They keep on keeping such action, but, how about those people like them that are innocent. People may think and judge them negatively.

  • ||

    I see that a lot of people here have read this article as:
    1. cops steal money
    2. cops work for the government
    3. therefore the government steals money
    4. since the government steals money we should abolish the government

    IMHO, if we abolish or make smaller the government, these activities are going to get WORSE not better. The reason? Because the activities you see happening here are the result of a government not being able to properly fund and regulate their police force, and so the force starts to act as its own private entity.

    The cops aren't acting as agents of the government by doing its nefarious bidding. They are acting as free agents, exploiting the power given to them to maximize their own gain.

    I say thank the gods for our government, because it provides us the only civilized method to remedy the issue.

    I think it's time we realize that cops are not "the defenders of truth and justice" and I think it's time that we stop lavishing them with un-due praise and respect. It's gotten to the point where they are acting like nothing more than bullies and thieves. If that's how they want to act, that should be how they are treated.

    Lastly, after reading this article, I for one am going to send a letter of concern to the ACLU.

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  • Hans Anders||

    Sad that these things happen. But always there will be innocent people convicted and guilty people that walk.

  • Kroon||

    No comment

  • incomeathome||

    Really cool article. I read the first page and going to come back to read the rest. My launch break ended. Thank you.

  • Finnish Spitz||

    POST only learn the initial page plus it produced me personally ill.
    Good, driving Car perhaps a lot of people would reconsider its service for any 'minimal' state which reaches decide just what 'justice' is actually.wolves gray

  • ||

    What greater example of arbitrary government is needed than to prosecute receivers of stolen goods as crimes what law enforcement does with impunity under theory of excuse.

    Arbitrary enforcement of laws has always been considered the death toll of legitimacy in any kind of government. It simply doesn't work for government to be allowed to steal what others by law cannot.

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  • LA Headshots||

    What a shame...

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