Asset Forfeiture

New Jersey Police Seize $171 From Man, Charge Him $175 to Challenge It

Hudson County, New Jersey combine dozens of asset forfeiture cases for amounts as low as $11, forcing defendants to pay higher filing fees to challenge them.

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ANDREW GOMBERT/EPA/Newscom

After the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office sued New Jersey resident Jermaine Mitchell to keep $171 dollars seized from him during a drug arrest earlier this year, it sent him a notice in jail of his right to challenge the seizure. The catch? It would cost him $175 just to file the challenge.

Mitchell's is one of 21 civil asset forfeiture cases that the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office combined together in a what the ACLU of New Jersey said in a court filing last week is an unlawful scheme that deprived Mitchell and the other defendants of their due process rights under the Constitution.

"The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office has made it difficult, and in many cases virtually impossible, for people to challenge the seizure of their property," ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Rebecca Livengood, who represents Mitchell, said in a statement. "The Prosecutor's Office has abdicated its duty to respect the rights of New Jerseyans — especially those with the fewest resources to begin with—in a blatant affront to due process."

Under civil asset forfeiture, which flourished across the country as a key tool in fighting the drug war, police can seize property—cash, cars, guns, and even homes—if they have probable cause that the property is connected to a crime. However, the property owner does not need to be convicted of a crime, or even charged, for the seizure to be upheld.

Law enforcement official often say asset forfeiture laws allow them to target drug traffickers and lucrative criminal operations by cutting off their proceeds, but civil liberties groups argue the perverse incentives of asset forfeiture lead police to shake down everyday citizens for petty amounts of cash. And, civil liberties groups argue, the process of trying to challenge a seizure is heavily weighted in favor of the state.

By rolling the 21 cases into one—a practice allowed under New Jersey law when the cases involve the same "transaction or occurrence"—the total amount of assets involved passed the $15,000 threshold to bump the case up to the Law Division of the state superior court, rather than the division that handles smaller matters, where the filing fee to challenge a seizure is only $15.

But the ACLU of New Jersey argues that most of the 21 cases are in no way connected. They were filed in different towns over the course of several months, and only five involved conspiracy charges. Six of the cases involved amounts of money below $175.

"By circumventing that system through improper joinder, the State is able to seize amounts less than $175 with total impunity from having to make its case on the merits," the ACLU of New Jersey wrote in the court filing.

According to public records obtained by the ACLU, Hudson County has the highest number of civil asset forfeitures in New Jersey, and it often packages together cases. "One action in February 2016 combined forfeiture cases against 63 people," the ACLU of New Jersey wrote. "One 2015 seizure included in a case combined with 28 others, police took $11 from a person."

Hudson County's practice of joining cases is unusual in the state, and of the nearly 500 individual forfeiture cases bundled together so far this year, half of them were for amounts of less than $175, the ACLU told NJ.com. If the property owners don't challenge the seizure, their money is forfeited to the state by default.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, gave New Jersey a "D-" grade for its asset forfeiture laws in a report released last year. According to the Institute for Justice, New Jersey's asset forfeiture program raked in more than $72 million in proceeds from 2009 through 2013, although it said that is likely a vast undercount because of the state's lack of transparency surrounding the program.

The Hudson County Prosecutor's office declined to comment, but in a statement to New Jersey media, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said her office is "acting properly."

"Proceeds from any criminal activity are often utilized by defendants to purchase goods which are used to facilitate future crimes," TK told NJ.com. "The HCPO will continue to take all lawful action to ensure that crime in our county does not pay and that any proceeds of a crime are removed from the hands of the criminals and used for a lawful public purpose."

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  1. Well, I mean, we already know that grand theft auto and other forms of robbery are legal for people wearing the correct costumes, it’s obvious that petty theft would be too.

    1. I think an act of petty theft committed by someone carrying a gun but not in a police uniform would be immediately upgraded to armed robbery.

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  2. The Prosecutor’s Office has abdicated its duty to respect the rights of New Jerseyans

    It’s a shame there’s no punishment for officials who engage in unconstitutional behavior.

    1. No doubt for Hillary, that’s a feature, not a bug…

      1. In Hudson County even the dead people vote Democrat.

        1. Twice on Tuesdays.

          1. Fuck those vote-greedy dead people!!!

            Oh by the way, are necrophiliacs a protected class? Or only if they are “trans” necrophiliac?

            1. Also, WHICH restroom should a practicing necrophiliac use; does it depend only on the apparent sex of the necrophiliac, or the apparent sex of his or her partner as well? What if the partner is in such a state of advanced decay, that his or her sex is indeterminant? How many lawyers can we pay, to make all these decisions?

  3. Law enforcement official often say asset forfeiture laws allow them to target drug traffickers and lucrative criminal operations by cutting off their proceeds…

    Take the proceeds and put them to fund a civilian oversight board. If the motives are actually so pure they shouldn’t need to keep the booty.

    1. Or hell, put the money in a trust for families of cops injured or killed in the line of duty. Do anything to make it look like you are just taking people’s money for shits and giggles, because you can, and spending it on stuff to enhance your ability to abuse and rob American citizens.

      1. Yeah, a “trust fund” for cop families. No chance of corruption with that notion.

        1. I like the idea of a cop becoming worth more to his family dead than alive.

          Instead of getting popped by some criminal 2 weeks before they retire, I can see a whole lot of those cops getting killed by their own family armed intruders during a “home invasion”.

          Or instead of getting a divorce from the cop, the wife has a big financial incentive to cut his brake lines instead.

        2. Civil asset forfeiture is already unconstitutional and grotesquely corrupt. My thought was to at least put severe restrictions on how proceeds from the practice can be used, until civil asset forfeiture law itself can be overthrown or heavily modified in favor citizens’s rights.

          Telling cops they can’t use it to buy weapons or equipment, or that they can’t put it in a general purpose slush fund, seems like a good thing to do until we tell them they can’t seize cash and property without due process.

          1. These are all good arguments. But there were a million good arguments why beer shouldn’t be a felony during prohibition. The puritans argued that prohibitionism made America affluent. They had asset forfeiture then and 100% seizure, tax liens. THAT was what drove the money out of the banks when Terry Druggan and Ralph Capone got popped converting corn sugar. That same October 1929 commercial banks got busted funding smuggling rings just north of Atlantic City. The prohibition indictments found in 1929 were mostly still dragging out in court cases in 1933, and the tax cases collapsed the economy as money fled the banks–just like in 2007. People sit up and take notice when you can prove they are poor because of looter prohibitionism.

      2. “Officer Jones sustained a terrible ringing in his ears for several minutes after throwing that flash-bang grenade into a baby’s crib. For his bravery, we will be giving him an award from the forfeiture fund”

        1. Baby blood money for the heroes in blue. These same heroes would crucify Christ today and gamble over his property when they were done.

      3. They use it to finance the next crime of theft from innocent (till proven guilty) citizens.

  4. Again I observe, that the actions of “law enforcement” look a great deal like the actions of organized crime.

    1. Well, the good news is the poorest, white and black, who have lived in a vice between “real” criminals the government/police, seeing little difference between the two, now have the comfort that that impact is being felt further and further up the socioeconomic chain. It is becoming more and more clear to more and more people that they are simply caught between criminal factions, some who are able to launder their activities with the blind hope of the superstitious. It’s the only reason exact behavior patterns from one group is evil and from another good. Unfortunately, one only has to go the comment sections of NBCNEWS.com or FOXNEWS.com to see that there is still a more than ample supply of the Fearful to fuel the behaviors of the Good Thugs.

  5. The prosecutor acting “properly” is the problem here.

    1. I understand that she thinks she’s got to double down on the bullshit, but $171 does not a criminal kingpin make.

      1. “…but $171 does not a criminal kingpin make.”

        Trickle up prosecutions. Prosecutors can use that $171 as leverage to get someone to turn on a big fish. Yeah, I don’t buy it either.

        1. They don’t even bother making that ridiculous argument anymore. They can’t really, because they don’t even bother arresting and interrogating the suspect. They just take his money and let him go. In a perverse way it’s refreshingly honest.

  6. Buying MRAPs and drones and shit constitutes a lawful public purpose, I guess. If you are an amoral sociopath who is too cowardly to be a real soldier, and you need to use them against American citizens who generally cannot or will not shoot first, or shoot back.

    1. Can anyone recall a story where cops make a public moral stand against enforcing ANY one edict from on high, with the exception of gun issues?

  7. What is this “due process” you speak of? It sounds suspiciously like something that would interfere with the noble servants of the State. Next you’ll be telling me that individuals have rights and other crazy things like that.

  8. If the cases are joined, & you’re the one who files to challenge them, & you win, do you get everybody’s $?

    1. And shouldn’t it be $175 div by the number of plaintiffs?

      1. “should be” and “is” are two different things when one “works” (pardon the use of this defective euphemism) for government.

        If these cases are all joined as one matter, then ALL the “defendants” are as one, and can/should challenge the case as a whole… sort of a mini class action defense.

  9. The luscious sticky webs of law are crafted exquisitely to ensnare those without keys in their fingers and feet.

  10. Chris Christie is still fighting the good fight! He’s, um, too big to fail.

    1. We’re going to miss him when Phil Murphy is governor. Those two years before he gets indicted for something and has to resign are going to be awful.

    2. You allude to one of the main things that is wrong with this country and its governance.

      We used to have a 4th estate that treated its role as a voice of the people seriously. Now we have partisan hacks who view their role as primarily boosting their chosen team and secondarily as a mouthpiece of the state.

      In any world in which the press took its responsibility seriously, Christie would be asked serious questions about the police and prosecutors in his state stealing from people under the cover of law. They would be tough questions that would require more than platitudes to answer.

      But we live in a world where politicians are rarely asked to answer serious questions. And the only tough questions come from partisan hacks who are simply trying to play games of “gotcha” with politicians of opposing parties. “Who is the prime minister of Kirghistan?” Gotcha! “Isn’t it sexist to call a woman a bad name?” Gotcha!

      How about asking Hillary some tough questions about Libya or Syria. (Or, heaven forbid, the President who made the final call on these cluster-fucks). No, I guess that would be rude. So lets all write front page op-ed pieces masquerading as news articles about whatever the imagined offense of the day is, without getting any relevant quotes from the principals. Well done 4th estate. Well done.

    3. Chris Krispy Kreme may be too big to fail but not to fall down. Why the hell has his stomach band surgery not reduced his tremendous girth.

  11. NJ sucks ass. The government here is corrupt to the core. They take our taxes. They take our assets. They’ll take whatever the fuck they can, and then they create new laws to take even more.

    And they’re still trying to take our guns.

    Fuck Trenton in the ass until it is bloody and dead.

    1. On the plus side: we’re not New York.

      1. And you’ve given us the Toxic Avenger

        1. And Bon Jo…uh…never mind.

      2. Not NY

        You must be a glass half full kind of person. The Garbage State vs. the Vampire State. Run south and do not look back.

    2. NJ Gov prosecuted and shut down organized crime effectively leaving them no competition.

  12. Didn’t the state of Ohio already get slapped down on this sort of crap where they tried to make people pay some sort of outrageous non-refundable “court costs” fee to appeal a decision? (It may be that it’s just wishful thinking that makes me think they got slapped down, it may just be that the fees were challenged.)

  13. Asset forfeiture is a vast growing business in the Banana Republic of NA.

  14. The attorneys in the prosecutors office are thieves who should be sitting in jail alongside the people they stole money from. This is legalized robbery plain and simple and hopefully it’ll get slapped down by a higher court.

    1. The judicial slap needs to be a glove-less back hand with brass knuckles.

  15. “Law enforcement official (sic) often say asset forfeiture laws allow them to target drug traffickers…but civil liberties groups argue the perverse incentives of asset forfeiture lead police to shake down ordinary citizens for petty amounts of cash.”

    That is not a good argument against asset forfeiture by civil liberties groups, if that is actually argued. It sounds like a simple cost/benefit analysis: if they aren’t ordinary citizens and the amounts aren’t petty then it’s OK? How about seizing, and especially keeping, anything without due process is wrong in and of itself?

  16. “…Prosecutor Esther Suarez said her office is “acting properly.”

    Oh Esther. Even the Mafia admits it’s the mafia.

  17. You can thank the Clintons’ Crime Bill for stuff like this. Not only did it add lots of police jobs and arm them to the teeth, it allowed the feds to help them seize even more property without due process. Big surprise that police unions are among the core democrat supporters. Republicans have cheered them on of course.

  18. If a cop seizes your money without a court order and without pressing charge. Go to your county sheriff office and file a theft charges on his sorry butt. When enough people start standing up to the crooks they will stop. I am also pretty sure you can still shoot a thief in most states.

    1. only if the amount stolen rises to the level of Grand Theft, a felony crime. And then it has to be when the theft is in progress. And only in some states.
      In NJ its a moot point, since no one but the ruling hooh hahs and their pals can even get the Mother May I Card to carry a handgun.

    2. Look, even where it’s cheap to file a civil claim, you still have to shell out some $40 for the clerk. And if the perp is someplace like NY, where the courts will not honor a motion to appear telephonically, you have to drive, pay gas and parking to show up in person.

  19. Just confess quickly. Trying to prove your innocence can jeopardize your credit rating.

  20. just making my afternoon wood chipper pass.

    This story needs some too.

  21. then they better start getting the “criminals” CONVICTED of actual crimes before “preventing” them from “committing” more of them. The whole forfeiture game needs trashed.

    And to think some folks hold that the Colonists revolted over a tax of a penny and halfpence the pound on stale tea (they didn’t) Here we have government operatives acting as if they had General Warrants are the right to accost whomever, wherever, for whatever cause or none at all (“he looked nervous….”) and steal, er, I mean seize, whatever they wish And the cops wonder why some people are shooting at them? Try behaving yourselves and respecting other people and their stuff….. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and a number of others like them are dead because their daddies never taught them to

  22. New Jersey is a criminal conspiracy masquerading as a state.

  23. Hudson County must be desperate for money!

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  25. Yup. Nothing like making hemp a felony, then confiscating people’s homes over a gro-light until the entire economy collapses, just like it did from 1929-1933 over beer being an asset-forfeiture felony.

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