Asset Forfeiture

ACLU Challenges Arizona's Forfeiture Laws: 'This Racket Has to Stop'

Innocent owners often find that fighting a seizure costs more than their property is worth.

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The Car Connection

In April 2013, Rhonda Cox, who lives in San Tan Valley, Arizona, bought a 2004 Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck that she found on Craigslist for $6,000. A few months later, she had to pay another $1,300 to replace the engine after it threw a rod. Her 20-year-old son, Christopher Clark, who frequently borrowed the truck, installed the new engine on August 1. The next day, Cox got a call from a deputy with the Pinal County Sheriff's Department, who informed her that Christopher had been arrested for stealing a hood and a cargo-bed cover that he had installed on the truck, which now belonged to the cops and prosecutors handling the case.

In theory, Cox could challenge this forfeiture by arguing that she was an innocent owner who had no idea that her property was being used for criminal purposes (which she was). But in practice, as the ACLU of Arizona explains in a federal lawsuit it filed today on Cox's behalf, that truck was gone as soon as the sheriff's department seized it. Cox could not afford to hire an attorney, whose fees probably would have exceeded the value of the truck. So she tried to get her property back on her own. The first step was appealing to the Pinal County Attorney's Office—the very agency that would share the proceeds from the forfeiture with the sheriff's department. 

"I am an innocent owner who had no knowledge and could have not reasonably known my 2004 Chevy Colorado would potentially be used in a crime," Cox said in her "Petition for Remission or Mitigation." "I allowed my son to use the vehicle as a way to better himself and get on his feet until such time he could purchase his own vehicle. The vehicle was never intended to belong to him and in fact was intended more for the use of hauling recreational vehicles and for my daughter to use once she obtained her drivers license. If the vehicle is seized it is I, the innocent owner who will be out the value of the vehicle and essentially punished."

Deputy County Attorney Craig Cameron, who in subsequent email correspondence would call Cox "nothing more than a straw owner" of the truck, was unmoved. The next step was to challenge the forfeiture in court. Cox had to pay a $304 fee for the privilege of trying to prove her own innocence, a reversal of the presumption that applies to criminal cases. "Rhonda was caught in a Kafkaesque predicament where, bizarrely, she bore the burden of proving that she was entitled to get the Truck back," says her complaint. "The State did not have to prove that Rhonda did anything wrong—let alone criminal—in order to keep the Truck."

In case that challenge was not daunting enough, Cameron warned her that she would have to pay the county's legal and additional investigative expenses if she lost. "Such fees and costs, if the case had gone to trial, would have exceeded the value of the truck, perhaps many times over," the complaint notes. "On top of authorizing the seizure of her Truck even though she did nothing wrong, the Forfeiture Laws then punish Rhonda for standing up for herself and her property in court." The risk was too much for Cox, so she dropped the challenge.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that Arizona's forfeiture laws violate the right to due process by giving police and prosecutors a financial interest in forfeitures and by erecting barriers that deter owners from seeking the return of their property. It says those barriers also violate the First Amendment right to petition the government.

The ACLU notes that the filing fee and liability for the opponent's legal expenses apply only to property owners, not to the government. "The Forfeiture Laws have created a system in which few people like Rhonda can afford to take the risk of defending their property," it says. Citing records of Pinal County forfeitures from the month in which Cox's truck was seized, the ACLU notes that they often involved property worth less than $1,000, in many cases less than the $304 filing fee. In effect, police are free to steal people's stuff without having to worry about proving it is connected to a crime, as long as they don't steal too much at one time.

Cameron fully understands the intimidating effect of telling owners they may have to pay the expenses that the government incurs in taking their property. "I have started to ask for fees in every case," he wrote in a June 19, 2014, email message to an owner's lawyer. "I suspect you didn't consider attorney fees when you took the case. By asking for fees, I'm reinforcing to the criminal defense bar the risks associated with making a claim in a forfeiture case. I'm sure you may disparage me to your criminal defense brethren for asking for fees, but they will know the risks and rewards better."

By contrast, the risks that police and prosecutors face in pursuing forfeitures are low, while the rewards are high. "All the proceeds from Arizona state forfeitures go to the law enforcement agencies involved in seizing and prosecuting the case," the ACLU notes. As examples cited in the complaint show, Arizona law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff's department and county attorney's office that took Cox's truck, have become alarmingly dependent on forfeiture money, which pays for overtime, retirement contributions, weapons, vehicles, police dogs, home security systems, and even entire divisions, such as the bomb squad, SWAT team, and hazardous materials unit at the Arizona Department of Public Safety. "Arizona's Forfeiture Laws stack the deck against claimants and incentivize law enforcement to maximize their profits at the expense of Arizonans' constitutional rights," the complaint says. "This racket has to stop."

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109 responses to “ACLU Challenges Arizona's Forfeiture Laws: 'This Racket Has to Stop'

  1. Banana republic gangsterism.
    USA! USA! USA!

  2. This is a good start.

    However, I don’t have much hope.

    1. Since the Supremes already declared the 5th Amendment null and void in such matters, there really is no hope.

      1. One of their worst decisions in modern times. They could’ve stopped a clearly unconstitutional practice, but they didn’t want to go against the WoD.

  3. Innocent owners often find that fighting a seizure costs more than their property is worth.

    Quite a coincidence, that.

    1. Well in this case at least her property was being used in a crime and she gave her consent to the criminal to use her property. Whether or not she knew her property would be used this way seems immaterial, she gave her property to someone who used it in a crime.

      This is very different than the cases cops take cash because they “suspect” it is being used in a crime, with zero evidence or due process that places the burden on the state to prove a crime was committed.

      Here the state followed due process, and found guilt and that a crime was committed.

      Libertarians are suppose to want a limited government the follows and enforces a reasonable set of law and order focused on property & civil rights & due process. Within that people who commit real crimes such as stealing and found guilty with real due process, should have the property they used to commit the crime taken. If we now go and say “well the property is lent by someone else” that just provides a loop hole for real crimes and real criminals.

      Again the problem with most asset forfeiture is that many seizures assume guilt instead of innocence and place the burden of proof on the defendant, not the state. Well here it sounds that due process was followed and guilt was found, I have hard time seeing a problem here.

      1. Actually, they seized the truck after the kid had only been arrested. Which is not the same thing a a due process finding of guilt.

        And I reject the notion that the truck becomes a deodand, guilty in itself, for having been used in a crime. Who cares if it provides a loophole? Why should anyone other than the person who has actually been convicted of the crime in question be punished, even if they had the poor sense to lend a criminal their property? Even if it really was a case of “Joe lent Bob his truck with the full knowledge that Bob was going to haul a bunch of sugar for his moonshine operation with it”, Joe still didn’t actually commit the crime.

      2. Property should only be seized if its purchase was the result of money made committing a crime, not just because it was tangential to the crime that was committed.
        One doesn’t deserve to keep what one buys with ill-gotten gains but taking something that was legitimately bought, but only connected to the crime by other means, that is wrong.

      3. Yes she gave the “criminal” her permission to use her property, but not even the DA is alleging she had knowledge of her son’s criminal activity. There isn’t even a pretense of due process as to the theft of her truck. The cops, DA, judge and everyone involved in this case and all civil asset forfeiture are vile degenerate thieves.

  4. The ACLU can go fuck itself because it’s liberal because they don’t stand up for 2a rights.

    /yokeltarian

    1. and they’re pushing the gay agenda /republictarian

      and they support mexian rapists /trumpetarian

      1. They don’t eat enough fish! /pescatarian

        They don’t smoke enough weed! /rastafarian

        1. they’ve been touched by his noodlely appendage /pastafarian

          1. Visions of Angel Pasta are dancing in my head.

            1. obliquely

        2. Yev nrank’ sharunakum yen kangnel t’urk’yeri! /Armenian

          1. I thought that would make more sense if I read it backwards. I have no idea why I thought that might work.

            1. I actually had the same thought, and tried it. No such luck.

              1. Y’all are racist.

              2. !Ereh gniht emas

    2. I need a solid answer on this guys, is the ACLU good or bad, I’d hate to go around deciding individually when they’re assholes.

      1. *puts arm around shoulder*

        It’s okay, nuance is for pussies, I choose to hate everything and everyone. Isn’t life easier now champ?

        1. I like you, you’ve got moxie.

  5. So I’m gonna have to cheer the ACLU now?

    1. Busted by Jim!

          1. Francisco Sanchez?

            1. I looked him up. I don’t get it.

              1. He claimed in broken English that he found the weapon under a park bench that he used to shoot Kate Steinle.

                1. Thank you. Also, how in the hell did I get two words wrong in a three word sentence? I gotta get more sleep.

    2. Even a broken clock…

      1. needs batteries?

      2. Has gears?

      3. Can be an excellent paperweight.

  6. I suspect you didn’t consider attorney fees when you took the case. By asking for fees, I’m reinforcing to the criminal defense bar the risks associated with making a claim in a forfeiture case. I’m sure you may disparage me to your criminal defense brethren for asking for fees, but they will know the risks and rewards better.”

    This public official is totally not trying to intimidate or deter defense attorneys from pursuing these cases.

    1. They might as well just wrap some fish in a bullet proof vest. It’s about as subtle.

      1. They could put the hood of the truck under the pillow in her bed while she sleeps.

        1. It’s not personal, Ms. Cox, just business….

          1. +1 Things You Should Have Learned by Now

      2. So is a woodchipper.

    2. if this was in IL, I would try to get him disbarred.

      1. Good luck. I’m sure the IL bar association is as ethical and upright as other state bars. And not dominated by prosecutors.

  7. So, since under civil asset forfeiture cases, the piece of property in question is charged with a crime, have any lawyers ever filed suit arguing that the property is entitled to due process?

    1. only if it’s corporation property.

      1. Soylent Green has residual enumerated rights.

        1. what what about it’s unenumerated rights- does the 14th amendment cover those?

          1. No, all unenumerated rights are lost during the moisture extraction process.

            Little known fact: unenumerated rights are proportional to the amount of an object that is comprised of liquid.

            1. the ocean, then… man, think of all the rights!

              1. “The Ocean” has many well-known aliases… would that make a difference?
                Atlantic, Pacific, Indian…

    2. Doesn’t matter. It’s a civil proceeding against property, not a person, so due process doesn’t apply. I wish I was only making that up.

      1. if you can bring proceedings against property, that property deserves a defense council.

        You can’t treat property like a person on one hand and not on the other (rationally).

        1. Rational’s got nuthin’ to do with it.

  8. As a tie in with the TPD prostitution story in the a.m. links, no charges have been filed against anyone in the case. Not against the cops or the massage business. Yet assets were seized. 4 year “investigation” just to steal a little cash and a couple of vehicles.

    http://goo.gl/t3PfOf

  9. Do the value of things like this truck get used in reports and press releases for the amount of money and value the department has kept out of the hands of drug related criminals?

    I mean, does there exist, somewhere, a report showing that in 2014, such and such county delivered a serious blow to violent drug cartels by hitting them where it counts- their wallet- to the tune of $X of product and valuables… including this truck?

    Does the DA run on those numbers?

    1. I was looking forward to the DA claiming the value of contraband goods that COULD HAVE BEEN in the truck if it had been used to transport, say, heroin or gold bars… And set the fines “appropriately.”

      Such bullshit!

  10. You know who else used state power to persecute innocents and seize their property?

    1. Lincoln?

    2. The Sheriff of Nottingham?

    3. FDR

      (may he rot in Hell)

    4. Every political ruler since the dawn of civilization?

        1. +1 Rugby Drink-Up singing

  11. Why does it take the ACLU to do this? Does anyone know if the “conservatives” at the Heritage Foundation or American Enterprise Institute speak out against asset forfeiture, let alone go to court? (I realize they’re only think tanks, but still).

    1. The Institute for Justice has represented many victims of civil asset forfeiture in court.

      1. ^This. Geritage and AEI are think Tanks. IJ is a civil litigation organization.

        1. LOL “Geritage”

    2. Ask and ye shall receive.

      Though I read through their position on the Heritage site, and they aren’t against it in principle, they believe it has “noble intentions” but has been abused and are pushing for it’s reform, not abolition.

      Still, it’s a helluva lot better than nothing.

      1. You beat me to it. Unfortunately, too many folks at Heritage are “good government” types. So civil asset forfeiture is good when it is used against “drug kingpins”, but bad when it is against “innocent” people. So much for the whole “Nation of Laws not Men” thing. After all, if their Top Men were in charge, they wouldn’t “abuse” this law.

        Never mind the whole 4th Amendment thing. And that property shouldn’t never be able to be seized unless it is part of a criminal trial process, and then should be absolutely returned when an accused is exonerated or the state drops the case.

        1. Hey I’m with you. It’s these Heritage assholes we need to convince.

      2. So Heritage has no real objection to asset forfeiture, as long as its done politely.

        Disappointing.

        Anyone who thinks you can “reform” it is a fool.

        1. A common socon delusion, RC.

      3. Though I read through their position on the Heritage site, and they aren’t against it in principle

        Republicans taking a shit on the Constitution when it suits their agenda? Shocking.

        1. But but but DEMOCRATS!

          1. Help me, Ron Wyden, you’re my only hope.

    3. Yes on Heritage apparently:

      http://dailysignal.com/2015/06…..ure-abuse/

  12. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…
    http://www.jobnet10.com

    1. Oh, sure. Like we’re gonna believe someone who advocates baby-slicing. Take it somewhere else, pal.

    2. Start “legally” stealing cash right now and get a spiffy blue uniform. Go to your local police department’s Web site and use the keywords “Spanish Inquisition.”

      1. ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; two chief weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless …

    3. Fuck off, spamming cunt.

  13. Completely off topic: “Miami cop Sabine Raymonvil is the subject of an internal investigation, with the future of her career as a police officer hanging by a thread.”

    A) Did she shoot someone unjustifiably?
    B) Did she beat on an unarmed youth?
    C) Did a suspect manage to mysteriously ‘shoot himself’ while handcuffed in the back of her patrol car?”
    D) All of the above?
    E) None of the above?

    1. Well, obviously if she didn’t fit the criteria for D), then she isn’t worthy of being a police officer, duh!

    2. Must be “E”, since cops typically don’t get into such trouble for A through D.

    3. She’s pretty hot, actually. She should just stick with porn.

      1. I’d think significantly higher of her.

        1. This. At least it’s honest work.

          1. LOL: “…some of these movies have been obtained by Channel 10 news.”

            Viewer: “Hey! The 6 o’clock news isn’t on. It’s just a test pattern.”

      2. I’m confident there are many who comment here who would agree with you, Kristen, if for no other reason than they consider the pornographic film business to be a less ignoble profession.

        1. In all seriousness, I hold porn actresses and prostitutes in the highest regard. What they do for a living actually brings joy and pleasure to millions of men (and, yes women as well). What the fuck is so wrong with that?

    4. Dang, I was figuring it was something more like this.
      .
      Davis’s termination came less than two weeks after top IPRA officials, evaluating Davis’s job performance, accused him of “a clear bias against the police” and called him “the only supervisor at IPRA who resists making requested changes as directed by management in order to reflect the correct finding with respect to OIS,” as officer-involved shootings are known in the agency.
      .
      I’ll give you two fifteen shots at guessing what the “correct finding with respect to OIS” is.

      1. I read about that from the site I provided a link to above. It’s depressing and a sad statement about where our police forces have been headed.

    5. Right up there with the assholes in Virginia that made a big deal about a former porn actress getting certified as an EMT.

      No one made a big deal about Nina Hartley (an RN).

  14. Not OT: Oklahoma DAs Use Asset Forfeitures to Pay Down Student Loans

    In a 2014 audit of the DA’s office representing Washington and Nowata counties, the State Auditor’s Office found that $5,000 in forfeiture funds had been used to make payments on an assistant district attorney’s student loans.

    A 2009 audit of the District Attorney’s Office that represents Beaver, Cimarron, Harper and Texas counties found that a Beaver County assistant district attorney began living rent-free in a house obtained in a 2004 forfeiture. A judge had ordered the house sold at an auction, but the prosecutor lived there through 2009.

    Totally not a racket.

  15. In a case like this, wouldn’t you be better off stealing the truck back? Then if they wanted to proceed against you, they’d have to make it a criminal case.

    Or would they then just seize it civilly again? Making you steal it back repeatedly until they could shoot you?

    1. Personally, I’d just blow the truck up. If I can’t have it, the hell if they could have it.

      Not a jury in the country would convict you on that.

      1. I wouldn’t actually want to bet that way.

        1. Gasoline and a flare into the impound yard on whatever vehicles are nearest. If someone does win their case, the pigs have to pay for replacement. If not, you’ve denied them those assets.

          Yes, I am proposing acts of subversion and violence against a corrupt government.

    2. Steal it back & sell it quickly.

  16. Burn it to the ground Woodchip it to a heap and start all over.

  17. Comments on this article prove that libertarians like weed. Is it 4:20 yet?

  18. It’s always bad news when your dealing with these ‘jackboot’ thugs. I’m glad to see the ACLU is trying to rein them in while filling this lawsuit. Almost like a parasite that feeds off the host, the police have become the peoples worst nightmare. A roving band of thieves. Back in the day, bandits wore scarves over their faces to hide their identify. Now the state government does it with it’s agents (police) fleecing and shaking citizens down. All ostensibly done under the aegis of ‘public safety’ or so they say. This practice amounts to a violation of the governments own RICO statutes. A corrupt practice..

    ” The first step was appealing to the Pinal County Attorney’s Office?the very agency that would share the proceeds from the forfeiture with the sheriff’s department.”

  19. And this is why we need more logchippers, and park them outside prostitutor’s houses.

  20. With such encouraging results from indirect thefts of taxation and inflation why not make a solid run at actual direct theft. There really is no downside for the State.

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