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What Forfeiture Reforms? New Hampshire Police Bypass State Law, Keep Taking People's Stuff

The Department of Justice's loophole lets officials seize property without having to get a conviction.

Police forfeiturePhotographerlondon / Dreamstime.com

In theory, New Hampshire has reformed its asset forfeiture laws. The state passed a bill in June 2016 to keep police from seizing and keeping people's property unless those people have been convicted of a crime.

And yet New Hampshire Public Radio reports this week that the state's cops are still trying to keep stuff seized from people who have been accused but not actually convicting of criminal behavior. Just months after the reform was passed, NHPR reports, state highway patrol officers grabbed a bag with $46,000 in cash out of a man's Hyundai during a traffic stop. They couldn't prove that the man had broken any laws, but they're attempting to keep the money anyway.

Don't blame me. I warned New Hampshire citizens when the reforms were passed that there was a big loophole. The U.S. Justice Department's "Equitable Sharing" program allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with the feds for busts, then funnel the forfeiture through the looser federal program, which doesn't require convictions, back into the local police budgets. Doing this allows them to skirt any state-level restrictions on asset forfeiture.

Some states, such as New Mexico, designed their reforms specifically to keep law enforcement from bypassing restrictions by going to the feds. New Hampshire didn't do that. So police are still attempting to pad their budgets this way. A U.S. attorney says the federal system typically has somewhere between a dozen or two forfeiture cases going on in New Hampshire at any given time, though he doesn't indicate whether those are criminal or civil forfeitures.

John Farley of the U.S. attorney's office in New Hampshire was quick to offer NHPR a typical defense:

Farley couldn't comment on the case of Alex Temple, which his office is handling. He did say the government is not going bring forward cases it doesn't think it can win. And all of these cases, in the end, are decided by a federal judge or jury—there is due process to ensure people's property rights are protected.

"If someone has a really legitimate defense, if they really truly were an innocent owner, if there is a legitimate explanation for why someone has this large quantity of cash, we're not going to just sit back and wait for a trial to see what happens," says Farley. "We're going to take that very seriously in how we assess what to do with that case."

What always gets left out when prosecutors, police, the FBI, and Justice Department officials defend civil asset forfeiture is that this process turns concepts of justice and innocence on their head. Instead of the state proving citizens are guilty of crimes, the citizens have to prove they're innocent. They're not entitled to an attorney, and they have to shell out to try to get their stuff back, which can be a challenge when the police have seized your money. And the government's thresholds for evidence are lower. Prosecutors do not have to prove guilt "beyond a shadow of a doubt" in order to win the case.

Why are police and prosecutors so intent on protecting civil asset forfeiture? Because it's easier to take people's money and other property if you don't have to convict them first. It's just that simple.

Photo Credit: Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

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  • Cynical Asshole||

    Thieves are gonna thieve.

  • SQRLSY One||

    "Who will police the police"? Still being asked, still not getting a good answer... The cops have the guns, and they find as many excuses as they can, to take our guns away from us.

    I know!!!! I GOT IT!!!!

    Gun control for cops!!!! Guns are bad, so take them away from the cops!!!!! NOW we can defend ourselves from thieves!

  • Hugh Akston||

    a bag with $46,000 in cash out of a man's Hyundai.

    I hope he was on his way to buy a better car.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Or as many crab legs as he can fit into that Hyundai.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    "Your Honor, their actions deprived me of the ability to get a better car than this Hyundai. Therefore their actions were unconstitutional, as it inflicted a cruel and unusual punishment upon me."

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Hyundai's are pretty nice. The new Genesis line has been getting all sorts of accolade.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    BUCS does most of his best work in the back seat of a Hyundai.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Nah, he has one of those little Datsuns with the seat that folds down.

  • H-daddy||

    I know a person who has been a car dealer for decades. High end Mercedes, Porsche, Lexus, etc. He really knows cars. He tells me that the very best built cars are now Hyundai. The best. Hyundai. He said the quality is beyond belief.

  • sarcasmic||

    When I was a kid we played "Cops and robbers."

    Now the kids play "Cops are robbers."

  • Eidde||

    Dick Turpin called, he says he wants some pointers from the cops on how to be a highway robber.

  • FreeRadical||

    Scott, you know the legal threshold for conviction is not "beyond a shadow of a doubt". You should correct that.

  • Tamfang||

    Does Hit & Run ever correct anything?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It's telling that law enforcement's immediate response to forfeiture reform is to try to circumvent it by any means possible.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Any question that Lord Acton was correct?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    If only we had heeded his words on papal infallibility.

    I also wish people remembered the sentence immediately after the most famous one, "Great men are almost always bad men."

  • sarcasmic||

    I prefer Frank Herbert.

    "All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptable. Such people have a tendency to become drunk on violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted."

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I'm not sure I agree. I don't consider myself to be a power seeker. I don't have that gene. However, recently, I was put in a position of power and there was an overwhelming temptation to use it to my own benefit. Hadda walk away.

    I suspect all men are corruptible by power and the only way to prevent it is to limit the power available.

    Herbert's thought seems like the "Top. Men." notion in reverse, to me.

  • sarcasmic||

    Think about the average politician. They were the scum of the earth long before they ran for office.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    I don't deny that anyone who'd want the job is a piece of shit to begin with...like cops

    BUT, I'd also bet that you could take the most principled of humans, give them absolute power and they'll succumb to it.

  • H-daddy||

    What is the evidence that politicians or judges or cops or whatever are any more/less honest or more/less principled than teachers, plumbers, painters, artists, or whatever??

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Simple...

    They aspire to be politicians, judges and cops.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Power DOES corrupt, though, in addition to attracting the corruptable.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Endogenous testosterone, you say? Good thing, then, that I am not interested in a career in politics.

  • BYODB||

    Too bad the President is absolutely in bed with the Police unions. Oh well, I guess. No reform will occur at the Federal level during the Trump administration, I suspect. Hell I'd be surprised if anyone at the Federal level gave any shits about this. Most people don't even know it's a thing, and if you tell them about it they think you're making it up.

  • Eidde||

    Maybe he can do with the police unions what he did with the 2nd Amendment crowd?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Grab them by the pussy?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

  • AlgerHiss||

    "... to keep police from seizing and keeping people's property unless those people have been convicted of a crime."

    No...not good enough! I don't give a rip if you HAVE been convicted of a crime, this confiscating property bullshit has to stop PERIOD!

    And do I really have to add that if there is property that clearly was stolen from someone, then yes...of course...that property goes back to its rightful owner? Do I really have to say that?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    If we're just giving stolen property back to civilians, how's the precinct supposed to buy a new ping pong table for the rec room, huh? Didn't think of that, did you.

  • epsilon given||

    I am convinced that governments should never profit from the wrongdoing of people. That any confiscation or whatnot should go into a fund to support the victims of the crime in question.

    When you have police who can profit from the wrongdoing of others, enforcing the law becomes a conflict of interest!

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    "If someone has a really legitimate defense, if they really truly were an innocent owner, if there is a legitimate explanation for why someone has this large quantity of cash, we're not going to just sit back and wait for a trial to see what happens," says Farley. "We're going to take that very seriously in how we assess what to do with that case."

    Unless the simple act of having large quantities of cash is itself illegal, you have no case.

  • Eidde||

    Didn't you hear the guy? If you're innocent, he'll let you get your property back without a court hearing.

    By demanding that the guy taking your money bear the burden of proving you guilty, you're questioning his fairness.

    Cop-hater!

  • retiredfire||

    There couldn't be more convincing evidence that the courts are corrupt, than their allowing this forfeiture - denying the right to be secure in one's possessions - without due process, such as conviction of a crime and proof that the asset is a product of that crime.
    The concept of simply passing a blanket law should not be considered due process, when it comes to an individual's rights being taken away.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    This is the only thing you've posted that isn't blissfully ignorant.

    Still hope you get cancer, though.

  • tommhan||

    Disgusting

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