Civil Asset Forfeiture

Fight Crime by Ending Civil Asset Forfeiture

Even government officials can occasionally admit the need for limits to their thievery.

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To judge by the tax-policy noise coming out of Washington, D.C., the government is eager to take even more of our stuff. But there's one area in which our assets and possessions are becoming safer from the sticky fingers of grabby officials: civil asset forfeiture is, ever-so-gradually, being reined-in across the country. One state at a time, with the criminal justice system under greater scrutiny than ever, people's cash, cars, and homes are winning protection against outright theft by prosecutors and cops.

"Today, the Arizona Senate voted nearly unanimously in favor of House Bill 2810, which requires the government get a criminal conviction before taking someone's property," the Goldwater Institute, which championed the legislation, announced April 28.  "HB 2810 would address civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police and prosecutors in states across the country to take, keep, and profit from someone's property without even charging them with a crime—much less convicting them of one."

With wide, bipartisan support, the bill is likely to be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, who has supported more moderate reforms to civil asset forfeiture in the past. That includes a 2017 measure that raised the bar for government to seize property and prevented state and local law enforcement from teaming up with federal agencies to share goodies nabbed under more-permissive federal rules.

"This is a significant victory, for Arizona to be joining the growing roster of states that have reformed their forfeiture laws," Will Gaona, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, commented at the time. "This bill addresses a number of significant problems with the current civil asset forfeiture scheme and moves Arizona in the right direction on property rights."

The new bill goes even further, making asset seizures possible only after government officials win a criminal conviction.

Arizona isn't alone in its reform efforts. Alabama's House is considering a measure already passed by the Senate that would require law enforcement to meet a higher evidentiary standard for asset seizures and exclude forfeiture of cash totaling less than $250 and vehicles worth less than $5,000, since fighting to recover such property usually costs more than the effort is worth. Like the 2017 Arizona measure, the Alabama legislation would prevent local and state law enforcement from working with the feds to steal money and goods.

In fact, provisions restricting local cooperation with federal agencies over asset seizures reappear time and again in legislation. California included such language in its 2016 reform law, and Colorado did the same the following year.

"Unfortunately, state reforms aren't enough because police agencies have concocted a clever workaround," Steven Greenhut pointed out earlier this month in Reason. "They take people's assets, then 'partner' with federal agencies, which operate under a much broader standard. Then they split the loot."

The U.S. Departments of Justice and the Treasury even publish a handy online guide detailing how local cops and prosecutors can profit from working with federal counterparts. "One of the ancillary benefits of asset forfeiture is the potential to share federal forfeiture proceeds with cooperating state and local law enforcement agencies through equitable sharing," the document boasts. That "equitable sharing" occurs under federal rules that bypass local restrictions on the practice—unless such sharing is curbed.

The federal government has been resistant to reform of its practices. The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned away a legal challenge to government agencies' refusal to provide a timely way to seek the recovery of property. While a bipartisan bill to make it somewhat harder to seize assets was recently introduced in Congress, that leaves most of the reform effort, for now, at the state level.

Not that local law enforcement is any more enthusiastic about changes to asset forfeiture than the feds. Arizona's reform legislation made it to Ducey's desk over the objections of cops and prosecutors. Similar objections have been raised against proposals in Nevada, and appear to have kneecapped efforts in Hawaii for now. 

In fact, officials are so addicted to the flow of funds they get from asset forfeiture that they sometimes buck the law themselves. They even defy orders to return ill-gotten goods to rightful owners.

"The Town of Mooresville, after having a motion for dismissal denied Monday, is once again being held in civil contempt of court for failing to return nearly $17,000 seized during an investigation," North Carolina's Greensboro News & Record reported earlier this month. "[District Judge Christine] Underwood stated that the Town of Mooresville will have seven days from the official filing of the order to comply and return the money or … the court will consider issuing orders to arrest both the Town Manager of Mooresville, Randy Hemann, and the Chief of Police, Ron Campurciani."

Cops seized the money at issue in Mooresville from Jermaine Sanders after a search of his car last November uncovered a small amount of marijuana. A judge ordered the Mooresville Police Department to return the cash a week later, but officials have consistently refused, arguing (among other things) that they no longer have the money since they gave it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Equitable sharing at work!

"The simple truth is that civil forfeiture continues throughout the United States because law enforcement has a very specific financial incentive to use it: it gets to keep the money," a coalition of  reformist organizations wrote in a March 15 letter to members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. "Congress should not allow this unjust civil forfeiture regime to continue any longer. The most optimal solution is to eliminate civil forfeiture altogether and rely instead on criminal forfeiture after a crime is proven." The organizations also offered compromise proposals, including ending "equitable sharing" and respecting due process rights of those attempting to recover seized property.

In the meantime, Arizona has joined other states in reining-in the overt banditry that goes by the name "civil asset forfeiture." The national effort to reform the practice is evidence that even government officials can occasionally admit the need for limits to their thievery.

NEXT: The Third Temptation

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  1. The national effort to reform the practice is evidence that even government officials can occasionally admit the need for limits to their thievery.

    Cool! Now do income tax withholding.

    1. Take a look at the proportion of State or County Budget is law enforcement.

      Theres a starter….maybe continuing financial problems will help put pressure to limit or end police and the Pay to Play inJustice system.

      1. PS creative way to solve this problem.

        Enforce the Court Order by putting a Lien on the Cops station building then immediately put it up for sale! Evict the SOBs.

        I bet they could come up with 17K real quickly then!

        Seize their assets!

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      2. And the education industrial complex. Ours is about 55%.

        1. Yep. And its all debt funded.

          The root word of funded is FUN!

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  2. “requires the government get a criminal conviction before taking someone’s property,”

    Said entities ARE NOT GOVERNMENT.

    Police are not government. They are ILLEGAL.

    No legal code in the Nation created or authorized Police.

    They are Nazi Jack Booted Communist Thugs.

    They are PRIVATE MILITARY FOR THE COURTS WHICH DESTROYS SEPARATION AND EQUALITY OF GOVERNMENT BRANCHES.

    They are un Constitutional.

    Police are part of why the Revolutionary War was fought, to get the Kings Parasites out of our homes. His soldiers.

    Itll lead to another war if it doesnt stop.

    Google ” Marxism and Crime” and read how controlling crime with laws is COMMUNISM. Its strait out of Karl Marx.

  3. “To judge by the tax-policy noise coming out of Washington, D.C., the government is eager to take even more of our stuff. But there’s one area in which our assets and possessions are becoming safer from the sticky fingers of grabby officials: civil asset forfeiture is, ever-so-gradually, being reined-in across the country.”

    After a few more cycles of progressive tax policy expansion, the government will have claim to most of your income and property, and you will have no assets to forfeit.

  4. The national effort to reform the practice is evidence that even government officials can occasionally admit the need for limits to their thievery.

    It’s evidence that when enough people get pissed off and start threatening politicians that politicians will finally get off their asses and do something about it – or at least pretend to do something about it. As much as politicians will claim that they’re doing this on principled grounds, that’s bullshit. They’re doing this – as they do everything – because they see it’s popular and people will vote for or against them depending on where they stand on the issue. That’s all they care about, they have no principles other than getting re-elected and unless you do a lot of screaming about your issue they don’t give a shit. They’re followers, not leaders, they need to wait to see which way the wind is blowing before they know which way to tack.

    The perfect example of this is the coronavirus restrictions – when are we getting our freedoms back, Dr. Fauci? “When the numbers are lower.” When will the numbers be low enough, what is the goal here? “When the numbers are lower.” Can you give us a hard number, what number are you looking for? “When the numbers are lower.” Fauci won’t fucking say what number he’s looking for because he doesn’t know, “the numbers” are not a scientific decision, they’re a political decision. “The numbers” will be low enough when people get pissed off at the restrictions and start ignoring them. Then suddenly all these politicians are going to decide the numbers are low enough and that’s exactly when Fauci is going to decide The Science™! supports ending the restrictions. And it will be all because of principles and The Science™ and not because politicians realized that the people have had enough of this bullshit.

    1. they do it on the principle that it benefits them!

      Like David the Psalmist said ” are you surprised when one is corrupt and the one above him covers it up?”

      1. ”are you surprised when one is corrupt and the one above him covers it up?”

        No, because the one above is dependent on the corrupt one to protect him and enforce his whims, even if they are not conspirators in the corruption.

    2. Not sure that asset forfeiture is popular, but rather largely unnoticed. They’ve been doing it because they could get away with it. Maybe more people are becoming aware of it and letting the politicians know that it is decidedly unpopular. Squeaky wheel and all that.

      1. Civil asset forfeiture is kept very, very quiet because it is a silent partner in wage theft.

        A crooked cop can confiscate everything you have in your vehicle if his dishonest relative employs/employed the forfeiture vic and the boss wants to repossess the employed/employee’s savings.

        Even more common is cop confiscation on minor drug busts. One joint or even a roach and seeds in an ashtray gives the dishonest law dog the opportunity to take last week’s pay or pocket money and weapons. The victim has no knowledge of civil asset forfeiture procedures and the cop pockets everything.

        Hence, civil asset forfeiture is a major driver of hiring and retention of corrupt law enforcement.

  5. “Mooresville will have seven days from the official filing of the order to comply and return the money or … the court will consider issuing orders to arrest both the Town Manager of Mooresville, Randy Hemann, and the Chief of Police, Ron Campurciani.”

    My guess, the Judge is complicit else they would have already been arrested for deliberate violation of an Order.

    “Now dont do it again….” is how children are dealt with.

    1. Her Order would be for the Chief to arrest himself, wouldnt it?

      Who would the arrest order be to, exactly?

  6. Theyre lying:

    “Mooresville Police Department to return the cash a week later, but officials have consistently refused, arguing (among other things) that they no longer have the money since they gave it to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

    If they dont have that exact pile of money then they can repay with other of the same kind of money.

    Thats a childish lie. ” I stole a cookie but Sally ate it” should be a Contempt of Court citation just for daring to say such a obviously false thing.

  7. Yes but no.

    Yes, end civil asset forfeiture against private citizens; but, no, restart it in a new form against governments’ bad actors, most especially police. Government goons’ two passions are oppression and their fat defined benefit pensions. If we want to reduce the former, we should act against the latter – make’em choose.

    A.C.A.B.
    All
    Cops
    Are
    Bureaucrats

    “It is the invariable habit of bureaucracies, at all times and everywhere, to assume…that every citizen is a criminal. Their one apparent purpose, pursued with a relentless and furious diligence, is to convert the assumption into a fact. They hunt endlessly for proofs, and, when proofs are lacking, for mere suspicions. The moment they become aware of a definite citizen, John Doe, seeking what is his right under the law, they begin searching feverishly for an excuse for withholding it from him.”
    ~ H. L. Mencken

    1. 10,000 up votes!

      1. Thanks, we should hit’em where they’ll feel it.

  8. Law enforcement claims CAF is a useful and needed tool to fight crime. Why not take them at their word but require all proceeds from CAF go to the Public Defender’s office? Cops get to keep their “tool” while reversing the incentive. Let’s find out how useful CAF really is.

    1. because, TROLL, ITS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

  9. J.D.T.: “The most optimal solution is…criminal forfeiture…”
    Why is any forfeiture not theft unless it is to compensate the victim?
    No victim, no crime. By what argument do you justify coercion, i.e., the initiation of violence? It’s anti-rights, inhuman, always destructive to society.
    A few benefit in the short run, all suffer in the long run.

  10. Fight crime by ending a law (civil asset forfeiture)? Isn’t that what the SCOTUS (state/federal) is for? Isn’t that what voting is for? If the elected are supposed to rep us by passing laws, how do they get away with doing the opposite, e.g., legalizing property right violations? Could it be that elections don’t protect. us? If so, why are we still voting for “law & order” if we keep getting “law & chaos”? It’s been 200+ years government by coercion, not reason, rights, choice. How does the initiation of violence protect our rights, i.e., “create all men equal”, sovereign? It hasn’t worked anywhere, anytime, and it won’t because the means determines the end. And violent means only result in destruction, on net.
    A politics of reason logically creates rights and rights give us choice. But that has not been tried anywhere. If it won’t work, why are the statists so afraid to give it a chance? Could it be we will discover a new political paradigm that leads to peace and prosperity without need for demigods to rule/exploit us?

  11. End the drug war.
    NOW!

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