Asset Forfeiture

Calif. Congressman Rails Against Police Abuse of Property Seizures

Calls for federal reform to stop law enforcement agencies from bypassing state restrictions.

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Rep. Darrell Issa
Congressional photo

Not everything coming out of the mouths of Republicans today revolves around Donald Trump. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, got some space in the Los Angeles Times' op-ed section this morning to rail against civil asset forfeiture abuse and to call for federal reform.

Issa's jumping off point is the recent highly publicized case where Oklahoma deputies seized $53,000 in cash from the car of a volunteer helping a traveling Burmese Christian band and claimed it was connected to the drug trade (with absolutely no evidence) in an effort to try to keep the money. Once the Institute for Justice got involved, the county dropped the case and sent a check back equal to the amount of money they seized.

Though this looks at first like a state-level situation, Issa's involvement is partly due to how the federal Department of Justice aids, abets, and encourages what happened in Oklahoma:

In 1994, California attempted to rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse, passing a bill that requires a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth up to $25,000, and that caps the amount of money authorities can keep at no more than 65% of the total.

But unless Congress takes action, state efforts to stop civil forfeiture abuse mean very little.

A program run by the Department of Justice known as "equitable sharing" in effect allows state and local police to circumvent state restrictions on civil forfeiture. Through "equitable sharing," local police departments can seize assets under federal, rather than state, law and keep 80% of the proceeds. (The Justice Department gets the rest.)

It should come as no surprise that in states that have implemented caps and limits, law enforcement simply relies on the federal program instead.

Some California law enforcement agencies have been particularly terrible here, as a Drug Policy Alliance report from last year noted (read about the study here). The collapse of the housing bubble hit California cities particularly hard, and some of them ramped up asset forfeiture efforts to try to stabilize police department budgets, using the federal program to get more and more money.

Issa is calling for reform to close the "loophole" that allows law enforcement agencies to bypass state rules for forfeiture and to require a higher burden of proof that the property or cash was connected to a crime before police can keep it.

What Issa is suggesting is a much more modest approach than Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) proposed Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act. Paul would abolish the federal "sharing" program entirely and introduce a number of changes (including Issa's request for a higher burden of proof) intended to seriously curtail law enforcement's ability to abuse the concept of forfeiture. Read more about Paul's bill here.

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  1. I’m pretty shocked and surprised since Issa seems like such a prick. But this is a good sign – that people will stand up to the Trumpster on principle. Because you know Trump thinks CAF is a great idea – “if used properly”.

    1. That candidate you mentioned had nothing to do with those laws. Sounds like even the GOP mainstream is afraid of what that candidate would do as president. We are so fucked.

      1. Everything Trump advocates is in the Republican Party Platform of 2012. Like Syme, the linguist in Orwell’s 1984, Trump is a little too direct.

        One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be
        vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does
        not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.

        Trump is simply unabashed about putting on the GOP mask. I will vote libertarian no matter what, but compared to the hitlers and televangelists, losers and whack jobs the GOP has trotted in front of the cameras, Trump looks sane and safe. Scott Adams over at Dilbert blog has predicted correctly every move of the Trump campaign with no hysteria or errors. The odds AGAINST Trump winning are 2 to 1, and the odds FOR Hilary winning are 3 to 1, but this is because anyone who wants to bully pregnant women into reproducing against their will simply has to lose. Thank goodness.

    2. I’ll need to look closer at Issa’s complaint – one of the suggested disincentives for police seizures is to require the seized assets be turned over to the state rather than being retained by the PD. Is Issa complaining that the federal by-pass allows the PD to keep seizing assets at all or is it just that it allows the PD to keep the proceeds all to themselves instead of turning it over to the state like it’s supposed to? The second seems more in keeping with what I know about Issa. He’s probably not worried about the money being taken, it’s that the state’s not getting their fair share of the loot.

  2. “In 1994, California attempted to rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse, passing a bill that requires a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth up to $25,000”

    I thought we already *had* something on the books regarding government officials seizing your property without due process.

    /laughable naivete

    1. That “something” was written by dead white guys, like, a hundred years ago, dude.

      1. Yeah, and they owned slaves, too, so anything they say is null and void.

        1. I bet they didn’t even let transgenders use the chamber pot of their choice!

  3. passing a bill that requires a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth up to $25,000

    Sounds like an incentive to go after bigger fish. Like Burmese Christian musicians.*

    *(I know one is in OK and the other CA. Just an illustration)

  4. If there’s money or assets to seize, they should be returned to the victim of the crime. If there’s no victim to take receipt, there was no crime committed.

    1. The victim is “TEH CHILDRUNZ!”. Those noble gangsters in blue surely use all that ill-gotten cash to buy APCs and tanks and paint them real purty and show them off at elementary schools everywhere. So, the money is going to the victims after all!

      1. Exactly. The victim is “The People” which is the government, since the government is us.

        Crimes against individuals are largely ignored by the police. After all, why should they investigate a burglary or mugging when they can prevent a hundred by locking up some druggie who hasn’t hurt anyone?

        1. And hold the kid ransom so daddy and mommie have to skip a mortgage payment to get him out of jail, then sell their house to pay attorneys fees because of a law passed by a cabal of attorneys whose probability of reelection averages 0.98.
          Whenever you see an idiotic law, ask yourself if its purpose is to generate added revenue for lawyer-politicians, their courts, prisons and bureaucracies.

    2. And bingo was his name-o.

  5. More to the point is that Bush Administration asset forfeiture looting was the direct cause of the crash of 2007 that collapsed housing markets, wiped out Bear Stern, Freddie and Fannie, AIG and pension funds everywhere. Cheap mortgage loans attract grow house speculators, and prohibitionist confiscations repel them. When people abandon mortgages and drain their bank accounts in response to the leper’s bell of the approaching looter, the money supply contracts, a liquidity crisis ensues and bankruptcies pile up. The same occurred in the 1989 S&L crisis, when Bush Senior declared Kristallnacht jihads against drugs to cut of communist profits from prohibition-inflated markets. Herbert Hoover did much the same from 1929 through 1933, and wrecked the entire banking industry before handing over power to FDR. Wall Street silence about the true causes was bought with government bailouts. The movie will be titled The Big Nondisclosure.

    1. Do you have a newsletter?

      1. I think that might have been it.

      2. It reads like those spam faxes we used to get in our office in the mid-90’s.

        1. Communist Profits would be a good name for a band, though.

          1. The commies produced nothing anybody wanted. Where else would they get money other than by running addictive dope. Why do you think they invaded Afghanistan? There is nothing there but opium and sand.

    2. Herbert Hoover started the Drug War?

      Fascinating – you learn something new every day.

      1. You’ve never heard of somebody “hoovering up” all the drugs? Where did you think that term came from? J. Edgar? (That Hoover is where the idea of drugs being “a drag, man” came from.)

      2. Ordinary facts of history known to all but cognoscenti. Herb Hoover appointed Harry Anslinger in 1930 and pressured Germany and Turkey to stop selling acetylmorphine illegally. The movement was begun by Theodore Roosevelt, whose brother Eliott was an addict, in response to China’s boycott prompted by US goods containing morphine. The early mechanism was Hague conventions, beginning after the Pure Food and Drug law of 1906 became effective. This was carried on by Taft and after the Chinese revolution of 1911 effectively banned morphine dumping there, supplied backed up in the Balkans, war broke out, and Germany found the pretext for war on Serbia before enough signers joined to make the convention effective. But Congress passed the Harrison Act just the same in 1914. You can look it up in google news archives or at the Schaffer druglibrary online

        1. Is “Woodrow Wilson” an unspeakable name? Not once in your rants have I heard you mention the greatest drug warrior of them all.*

          * = The title may actually belong to Wilson’s wife

          1. True, Woodie was a prohibitionist too, and much hated in Atlantic City. In fact, it is no trivial question to ask whether TR’s Bull Moose split the GOP because of insufficient prohibitionist zeal on the part of Taft. Taft was Governor of the Philippines when the US was forcing addicts to undergo sudden withdrawal. Pumping water into Aguinaldo’s men was a pre-waterboarding form of torture dear to Republicans. Wilson’s Sec’y of State, William Jennings Bryan (he of the preaching in Bolivia, white feather, income tax and monkey trial) was as frothing, raving and carpet-biting a prohibitionist mystical bigot as has ever sallied forth from either wing of the great looter kleptocracy. The US firmly but gently pressed for a Hague Convention to stop Britain, France and Germany (and others) from dumping addictive dope on primitives.

  6. But why is Issa suggesting a more “modest” approach than Paul? Are we to believe that the problem is bad, but not SO bad that a more moderate approach would be BETTER? This makes no sense from Issa. Instead it comes across as political “compromise”, in the sense that the word has come to mean: you give up more of your rights, because “LAW ENFORCEMENT DEMANDS, ahem, NEEDS it”, and Government PROMISES to be nicer. Pinky swear!

    Principles, man. Principles. How ’bout we get back to respecting THOSE?

    1. Seriously.

      Personally, I don’t consider thievery to be an area for negotiation.

      Me: You can’t have my stuff.
      Thief: How about I only take some of your stuff?
      Me: No.
      Thief: Only on odd days of the month?
      Me: No.
      Thief: Only if I have your neighbor’s permission?
      Me: No.
      Thief: Man, you won’t budge on anything! I think we need a mediator . . .

  7. “The collapse of the housing bubble hit California cities particularly hard, and some of them ramped up asset forfeiture efforts to try to stabilize police department budgets, using the federal program to get more and more money.

    Remind me how this is not legalized robbery again?

    It’s amazing how thin the line between criminals and cops is, eh?

    1. the only difference is that cops are licensed by the state and the robbers aren’t and the government hates competition of any sort legal or otherwise.

    2. Google “asset forfeiture” then look at images… there are a number of graphs showing that the sharpest acceleration of looting sharing seizures in millions of dollars occurred in California in 2007, and kept ramping til 2011-12. There are also false color maps showing subprime mortgage default rates massed along all traditional bootlegging and drug routes, especially Florida. Many graphs are skewed and the fine print shows that the Consolidated Debt Collection System began in 2007 generating “Restitution Collection” graphs specifically excluding asset forfeiture amounts. These show a similar gross doubling in 2008-2009, but looting by men with guns is the subject of both sets of graphs. Dividing the looting disguises the totals involved, much like having one party ban individual rights while another abolished economic freedom fills up Treblinkas more subtly than the direct approach.

    3. The Virginia definition:
      ? 18.2-58. How punished.

      If any person commit robbery by partial strangulation, or suffocation, or by striking or beating, or by other violence to the person, or by assault or otherwise putting a person in fear of serious bodily harm, or by the threat or presenting of firearms, or other deadly weapon or instrumentality whatsoever, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in a state correctional facility for life or any term not less than five years.

      Code 1950, ? 18.1-91; 1960, c. 358; 1966, c. 361; 1975, cc. 14, 15, 605; 1978, c. 608.

      So, no real difference other than “color of law”.

      1. As I run down the list of methods, it’s like the syllabus of a police “defensive tactics” course.

  8. A program run by the Department of Justice known as “equitable sharing” in effect allows state and local police to circumvent state restrictions on civil forfeiture. Through “equitable sharing,” local police departments can seize assets under federal, rather than state, law and keep 80% of the proceeds. (The Justice Department gets the rest.)

    Surely states can pass laws prohibiting their police from participating in this (in)equitable “sharing” program?

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