Category Archives: Asset Forfeiture

“sick of hearing about your rights…you have no rights here.”

Border Agents Seized American Citizen’s Truck, Never Charged Him With A Crime

Nick Sibilla , Contributor

When Gerardo Serrano took photos of a border crossing on September 21, 2015, he had no idea he would soon be handcuffed, thrown into a detention cell and see his truck seized by government agents that very same day. During his ordeal, when Gerardo protested how his rights were being violated, one agent bluntly responded that he was “sick of hearing about your rights…you have no rights here.”

Two years later, Gerardo still has not recovered his truck or even had his day in court to challenge the seizure. Nor has he been charged with any crime.

But this scene, straight from an authoritarian nightmare, didn’t play out in Syria or Venezuela. Gerardo’s Ford F-250 was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Eagle Pass, Texas.

“When the agents told me they were seizing my truck, I said ‘No, you’re not seizing my truck, you’re stealing my truck!’” Gerardo recalled. “I didn’t think that this could happen in America. It felt like they were thugs with badges.”

Institute for Justice.

Gerardo Serrano

Thanks to the nation’s civil forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize—and keep—property, even if the owner is never convicted or indicted. Determined to vindicate his rights, Gerardo joined with the Institute for Justice and filed a class-action lawsuit against the CBP on behalf of other car owners.

What happened to Gerardo is not an isolated incident. At just four border crossings in Texas, CBP agents seized 525 vehicles from American citizens and lawful residents in 2015. A victory in Gerardo’s case would mean restoring due-process rights for hundreds, if not thousands, of other car owners nationwide.

“Of course I want my truck back, but that’s not why I’m filing this lawsuit,” Gerardo said. “I’m doing this for my children and the thousands of other Americans who should never have to go through what I’ve gone through.”

Almost two years ago, Gerardo was driving down to meet his cousin, who lives right across the border in Piedra Nagras, Mexico. Although members of his family are Mexican, Gerardo is an American citizen, who now owns a farm in the Kentucky countryside. Ever the consummate entrepreneur, Gerardo also wanted to discuss plans to bring his cousin’s solar panel business stateside.

When he reached the border crossing in Eagle Pass, Texas, Gerardo decided to snap some pictures with his iPhone to post on Facebook. Two CBP agents quickly stopped his truck and forced him out, before handcuffing Gerardo and demanding that he unlock his phone.

Meanwhile, other agents searched his car. Inside, they found five 0.380 caliber bullets and a SIG Sauer magazine of the same caliber. Based solely on those bullets and magazine, the CBP seized the vehicle. The agency would later claim that the truck was transporting “munitions of war” and had to be forfeited.

But Gerardo is a lawful gun owner, not a weapons smuggler. Gerardo has a concealed-carry permit from Kentucky, which has reciprocity for Texas and the other states he drove through on his trip.

Follow the Institute for Justice on Facebook and Twitter.

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ASSET FORFEITURE IS ALIVE AND WELL…

K9 bust Three Rivers

By Brad Devereaux | bdeverea@mlive.com
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on June 12, 2017 at 8:43 AM

THREE RIVERS, MI — Police arrested a 22-year-old Elkhart man after a traffic stop for defective equipment and a K9 search that revealed about nine ounces of marijuana, police say.

On Saturday evening, June 10, a police officer pulled over a maroon SUV for a defective equipment violation and determined the driver had a suspended license, a Three Rivers Police Department news release states.

Police arrested the driver and found a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. He refused consenting to a search of the vehicle. 

Police called in K9 Django and proceeded with a search after the investigation showed reasonable suspicion that more drugs could be in the car, police said.

Django conducted an exterior search for the odor of drugs and gave a positive alert.

Officers entered the SUV and found about nine ounces of marijuana packaged for sale. 

The man was lodged at the St. Joseph County Jail on felony drug charges. The vehicle and currency were seized under civil drug forfeiture laws, police said. 

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DoJ Task Force Moves to Review Federal Cannabis Policy

In a DoJ memo, AG Jeff Sessions called for a subcommittee on marijuana and an email shows the DEA inquiring about Colorado cases.

By Aaron G. Biros

In a memo sent throughout the Department of Justice on April 5th, attorney general Jeff Sessions outlines the establishment of the Department’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. That task force, largely focused on violent crime, is supposed to find ways that federal prosecutors can more effectively reduce illegal immigration, violent crimes and gun violence.

The task force is made up of subcommittees, according to the memo, and one of them is focused on reviewing federal cannabis policy. “Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department’s overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities,” the memo reads. “Another subcommittee will explore our use of asset forfeiture and make recommendations on any improvements needed to legal authorities, policies, and training to most effectively attack the financial infrastructure of criminal organizations.” Those existing policies that Sessions refers to in the memo could very well be the 2013 Cole Memorandum, an Obama administration decree that essentially set up a framework for states with legal cannabis laws to avoid federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act.

In the past, Sessions has said he thinks the Cole Memo is valid, but remains skeptical of medical cannabis. In the last several months, comments made by Sessions and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have sparked outrage and growing fears among stakeholders in the cannabis industry, including major business players and state lawmakers. As a general feeling of uncertainty surrounding federal cannabis policy grows, many are looking for a safe haven, which could mean looking to markets outside of the U.S., like Canada, for example.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Washington State’s former Attorney General Rob McKenna, Washington State’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Moran, and Maryland’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General Kay Winfree recently went on the record identifying the BioTrack THC traceability system as fully compliant with the Cole Memo. “The key to meeting the requirements of the Cole Memorandum is ‘both the existence of a strong and effective state regulatory system, and an operation’s compliance with that system’,” says the former attorney general and chief deputy attorneys general in a press release. “As described above, Washington State has a robust, comprehensive regulatory scheme that controls the entire marijuana supply chain.

The email sent to Colorado prosecutor Michael Melito

The flagship component of this regulatory scheme is the WSLCB’s seed to sale inventory system, the BioTrackTHC Traceability System.” Those commendations from a former attorney general could provide some solace to business operating with the seed-to-sale traceability software.

Still though, worries in the industry are fueled by speculation and a general lack of clarity from the Trump Administration and the Department of Justice. In an email obtained by an open records request and first reported by the International Business Times, a DEA supervisor asked a Colorado prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office about a number of cannabis-related prosecutions. The DEA supervisor asked for the state docket numbers of a handful of cases, including one involving cannabis being shipped out of state, according to The Denver Post. “Some of our intel people are trying to track down info regarding some of DEA’s better marijuana investigations for the new administration,” reads the email. “Hopefully it will lead to some positive changes.” So far, only speculations have emerged pertaining to its significance or lack thereof and what this could possibly mean for the future of federal cannabis policy.

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First 2017 Marijuana Bill Introduced In Congress

Rick Thompson January 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

 

Image result for California Representative Barbara Lee

 

In a year which has been heralded as a time of change for federal marijuana laws and policies, the first federal bill proposing a change has been introduced in the United States Congress.

H.R. 331 was introduced January 5th and is sponsored by California Representative Barbara Lee (13th District). The official Congressional description of the bill’s purpose is, “To amend the Controlled Substances Act so as to exempt real property from civil forfeiture due to medical marijuana-related conduct that is authorized by State law.”

At the time of this writing the bill’s language was not available on the Congressional website.

The bill was simultaneously assigned to both the House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce Committees. The Congressional website describes the Committee split in this way:

Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and in addition to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.

The current Speaker of the House is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

Rep. Lee has stated she will boycott the inauguration of newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump.

Concerns are rampant within the American marijuana industry and patient population that President-elect Trump will emulate other Republicans and move to curtail or eliminate legal and medical marijuana use in the states where voters have approved it. His nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for the post of U.S. Attorney General reinforced those concerns, as Sessions has a record of attacking marijuana use in speeches and actions.

During a recent nomination hearing, Sen. Sessions did little to reassure anyone about his position. His evasive answers to questions related to his stance on cannabis use offered no insight, and by not revealing his position Sessions fueled the anti-Trump conversation nationwide.

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Class-action suit challenges constitutionality of civil forfeiture

Fatima Hussein , IndyStar 10:17 p.m. EST November 27, 2016

 

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella wears his beliefs on his sleeve, in the form of a pair of large, pastel yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” cuff links.

In between explanations of his libertarian principles, the 34-year-old Cardella  said his clients may not always be the most sympathetic individuals, but they deserve their rights, too.

Cardella filed a federal class-action lawsuit this month, on behalf of Leroy Washington, whose vehicle was taken by police in September. Washington was arrested and charged with resisting law enforcement, dealing in marijuana and obstruction of justice.

The suit argues that the Indiana law that allows police to seize property from alleged drug dealers and others, regardless of their guilt or innocence, violates criminal defendants’ constitutional right to due process.

It “allows the executive branch to seize and hold the vehicle of an owner for several months without affording the owner the right to a postseizure preforfeiture hearing to challenge the seizure,” according to the complaint.

It’s an argument that could, if it prevails in court, have a sweeping effect on law enforcement.

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella stands in front

Criminal defense attorney Jeff Cardella stands in front of the Justice Statue at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton / IndyStar)

According to Justice Department data, Indiana State Police seized more than $2.2 million in personal property from Indiana residents in 2014. In Marion County, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department seized roughly $48,022 in personal property that year, according to the data.

The suit, limited specifically to vehicles in IMPD possession, does not seek monetary damages. Rather, Washington wants law enforcement to give back his vehicle, and the vehicles of countless individuals whose property was seized under Indiana’s civil forfeiture laws.

Cardella also seeks a reduction in the period of time law enforcement can hold property without stating a reason for seizing it.

“It’s a matter of protecting the constitutional rights of my clients,” said Cardella, a professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, who is vehemently opposed to “unjust government taking.”

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, Mayor Joe Hogsett and IMPD Police Chief Troy Riggs are named defendants in the complaint.

Curry told IndyStar that there are a variety of reasons why the law, as it exists today, is reasonable and constitutional.

“There are protections built in the law to protect innocent people,” Curry said. “An aggrieved party could ask for an emergency hearing to get their property back.”

However, experts and civil libertarians such as Cardella argue that civil forfeiture laws may be due for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Civil forfeiture around the country

Today, all states allow for forfeiture and there are more than 400 federal forfeiture statutes. Legal opinions written on the matter show an inconsistency as to what is and is not a violation of an individual’s property rights.

On a federal level, writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan stated that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial.

The dissenters in the case were strange bedfellows, ranging from traditionally conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

There is also room for interpretation at the state level.

In Indiana, former Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who wrote the Supreme Court ruling in another civil forfeiture case, said criticisms of asset seizure may be legitimate in some places. But instances vary from one jurisdiction to another. “There are places where it’s used more forcefully than most people would think is appropriate,” Shepard said.

Because the process is characterized as “civil forfeiture” rather than “criminal forfeiture,” he said, property can be taken regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused party, which raises concerns.

“The relative ease of effecting such forfeiture and the disposition of the assets have become a matter of public note,” Shepard wrote.

Washington, through Cardella, argues that the length of time that police have to possess individuals’ property unduly burdens property owners.

Under Indiana law, the executive branch can hold a vehicle for up to six months. If the state decides to file a forfeiture claim against the vehicle within the first 180 days, the vehicle is held indefinitely until the case is concluded, which can often be several additional months, according to court documents. ​

“I think there is a widespread misunderstanding (that civil forfeiture) is not a unilateral act,” Curry told IndyStar. He explained that most of individuals whose property is seized are drug dealers and the like.

However, case law throughout the country suggests that Indiana’s laws — when it comes to the length of time that law enforcement can hold onto a vehicle — may be unconstitutional.

In a 2002 U.S. Court of Appeals opinion authored by Sotomayor, the court held that the Constitution demanded a speedy process to determine whether the government was likely to win the forfeiture claim.

In the case, Krimstock v. Kelly, three automobile owners challenged a New York City policy that allowed the city to seize motor vehicles from individuals accused of certain crimes involving motor vehicles and then to hold the vehicles — sometimes for years — in hopes of gaining title in civil forfeiture proceedings.

The U.S. Supreme Court has passed on making a substantive ruling on civil forfeiture matters, specifically pertaining to vehicles.

INDIANAPOLIS STAR

In some cases, police seize cars, homes — with no charges filed

Challenges coming from all sides

And Cardella’s isn’t the only suit challenging Indiana’s statute.

Sam Gedge, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian nonprofit based in Arlington, Va., filed a lawsuit in February (Jeana M. Horner, Dennis Jack Horner, et al. v. Terry R. Curry, Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, et al.) in Marion Superior Court charging the IMPD and prosecutors with violating the Indiana Constitution by not forwarding all civil forfeiture proceeds to the state’s common school fund.

Instead, the county is keeping 100 percent of the money in a “policing for profit” scheme, the institute said.

INDIANAPOLIS STAR

Indy civil forfeiture lawsuit will proceed

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department divvy up all the money received from civil forfeitures based on a 30/70 split, according to the lawsuit.

The case has yet to be decided.

Regarding Washington and Cardella’s lawsuit, Gedge said, “There are two fundamental problems which make it a serious assault on property rights: It allows law enforcement to seize property, that’s ripe for abuse. And what makes the process more pernicious, (is that law enforcement) is seizing a direct stake in property.”

Cardella, said while it’s not likely that the case will go to the Supreme Court, “I hope it does.”

Cardella, who lives in a rural area outside of Indianapolis, said he prizes his privacy and freedoms as an American.

Citing the Join, or Die political cartoon of a snake cut into pieces drawn by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, Cardella believes in the collective power of the people to unite against tyranny and unfairness.

He sees current civil forfeiture laws as the government’s way of trampling on citizens’ rights.

“This is the kind of case that made me want to go to law school.”

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Alaska Bill Takes on “Policing for Profit” via Asset Forfeiture; Closes Federal Loophole

 

 

JUNEAU, Alaska, (Feb. 24, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Alaska House would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state from taking property without a criminal conviction. The legislation also takes on federal forfeiture programs by banning prosecutors from circumventing state laws by passing cases off to the feds in most situations.

Rep. Tammie Wilson [R], Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins [D] and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux [R] introduced House Bill 317 (HB317) on Feb. 15. The legislation would reform Alaska law by requiring a criminal conviction before prosecutors could proceed with asset forfeiture. Under current law, the state can seize assets even if a person is never found guilty of a crime, or even arrested.

The bills would also require proceeds from forfeitures be deposited into the state general fund. Under current law, Alaska law enforcement agencies keep up to 70% of asset forfeiture money. This provision curbs the policing for profit motive inherent in the current law.

ADDRESSES FEDERAL PROGRAMS

HB317 also closes a loophole that allows prosecutors to bypass more stringent state asset forfeiture laws by passing cases off to the federal government under its Equitable Sharing forfeiture program.

“A law enforcement agency may not refer or otherwise transfer property seized under state law to a federal agency seeking the adoption of the seized property by the federal agency.

“A law enforcement agency participating in a joint investigation or taskforce with a federal agency may not transfer property to the federal government unless the court enters an order, upon petition of the prosecuting attorney, authorizing the property to be transferred. The court may enter an order authorizing a transfer to the federal government if the transfer is actually necessary for an active criminal case or criminal investigation brought by the federal government. The court may enter an order declining the transfer if the transfer would circumvent the protections provided under AS 12.36.300 – 12.36.700”

In other words the legislation does not attempt to interfere with federally initiated forfeiture, but bans state and local police from passing off their cases to federal jurisdiction in most cases. The bill would also require any equitable sharing program money obtained through allowed transfers to be deposited in the state’s general fund.

The inclusion of provisions barring state and local law enforcement agencies from passing off cases to the feds is particularly important. In several states with strict asset forfeiture laws, prosecutors have done just that. By placing the case under federal jurisdiction, law enforcement can bypass the need for a conviction under state law and collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets via the federal Equitable Sharing Program.

Late last December the U.S. Department of Justice suspended the Equitable Sharing Program due to budget cuts. But as the Washington Post reported, the suspension won’t likely be permanent.

“In its letter, the DOJ hints that it may be able to restart payments later: ‘By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve.’ The DOJ hopes to ‘reinstate sharing distributions as soon as practical and financially feasible,’ the letter concludes.”

Even with the program suspension in place for now, the prohibition from passing off cases remains an important provision.

California prosecutors and law enforcement agencies have regularly utilized this loophole. As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government has inserted itself into the California’s asset forfeiture debate. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.

Why?

We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.

Asset forfeiture laws incentivize “policing for profit” on one hand, and dubious state-federal partnerships on the other.

NEXT

HB317 was referred to the Judiciary Committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving on to the full House for further consideration.

Take action to support HB317 at this link.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

ALASKA ASSET FORFEITURE

UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

OFFICIAL NOTIFICATION

POSTED ON

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

New Hampshire Committee Approves Bill to Curb “Policing for Profit” via Asset Forfeiture, Federal Loophole Remains

CONCORD, NH (Nov. 17) – Last week, a New Hampshire House committee passed a bill to reform and restrict civil asset forfeiture. But remaining in the bill is a loophole that would allow law enforcement to work with the feds to skirt more stringent state laws.

Introduced by Rep. Dan McGuire (R-Merrimack) along with ten bipartisan legislators, House Bill 636 (HB636) would completely eliminate civil asset forfeiture under state law and only allow forfeiture via criminal proceedings after prosecutors secure a criminal conviction. It passed in the House Judiciary Committee on Nov. 12 by a 14-5 vote.

HB636 would require the state to produce “clear and convincing evidence” before a forfeiture is allowed. In addition, innocent owners of property would have their possessions returned “unless the alleged innocent owner thereof was a consenting party to the crime” as long as they filed a claim within 10 days. Forfeited money and auction proceeds would be used to “pay all outstanding recorded liens on the forfeited property, then to… pay reasonable non-personnel expenses, with all remaining funds to be deposited into the state’s general fund.”

The House Judiciary Committee amended HB636 before ultimately passing the bill. The amendments changed language to earmark forfeiture funds obtained within drug cases from a “drug forfeiture fund” to the general fund. This removes forfeiture-related proceeds from directly funding law enforcement, which has been one of the most abusive practices that has proliferated asset forfeitures nationwide.

The state of New Hampshire was given a terrible rating by the Institute for Justice for their civil asset forfeiture laws in 2010, primarily because “the burden rests on [the property owner] to raise an innocent owner defense, effectively making [them] guilty until proven innocent” and “law enforcement has a profit motive to pursue forfeitures because they directly keep 45 percent of the proceeds.” HB636 would ban those practices immediately.

FEDERAL LOOPHOLE

As currently drafted, however, HB636 leaves a loophole open that would make the proposed state reforms generally ineffective in practice.

The bill needs to include amendment language to stop state and local law enforcement from turning cases over to the federal government, thereby circumventing any restrictions placed on asset forfeiture at the state level.

This very scenario plays out frequently in states with strong asset forfeiture laws like California. Police simply avoid such restrictions by turning cases involving seized assets over to the feds. In return, state and local agencies get up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets back through the Federal “Equitable Sharing Program.”

Simple language can close this loophole.

“A law enforcement agency or prosecuting authority may not directly or indirectly transfer seized property to any federal law enforcement authority or other federal agency unless the value of the seized property exceeds $50,000, excluding the potential value of the sale of contraband.”

As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported the federal government has inserted itself into the California’s asset forfeiture debate. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.

Why?

We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.

STATES PUSH BACK

States are rapidly taking notice and passing reforms to halt this abusive practice. New Mexico enacted a law this year prohibiting the confiscation of property from suspects of a crime until after they are convicted. Montana passed a significant but less comprehensive reform plan tackling asset forfeiture this year as well.

Now that HB636 passed the House Judiciary Committee, it is set to receive a full vote in the state House.

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Massachusetts Committee Considers Restrictions on Asset Forfeiture Program

B

BOSTON (Nov. 5, 2015) – A bill under consideration in the Massachusetts Senate would reform asset forfeiture laws to prohibit the state from taking property without a criminal conviction in most cases.

Introduced in April by Sen. Salvatore DiDomenico (D-Middlesex) along with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, Senate Bill 797 (S797) was given a hearing in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary last month with a decision yet to be made on the legislation.

If passed, S797 would reform the practice of civil asset forfeiture under state law by only allowing forfeitures of property by government officials to be completed after “proving to the court the existence of probable cause to institute the action.”

S797 would also remove certain financial incentives facilitating civil asset forfeitures within the state. Asset forfeitures would be prohibited from being a “source of revenue to meet the operating needs of [any police or sheriff’s] department.” This would stop law enforcement from using the disposition of seized assets as a reliable source of revenue.

FEDERAL LOOPHOLE

As currently drafted, S797 leaves a loophole open that could make the proposed state reforms generally ineffective.

The bill needs to include amendment language to stop state and local law enforcement from turning cases over to the federal government, thereby circumventing any restrictions placed on asset forfeiture at the state level.

This very scenario plays out frequently in states with strong asset forfeiture laws like California. Police simply avoid state-only restrictions on asset forfeiture by turning cases involving seized assets over to the feds. In return, state and local agencies get up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets back through the Federal Equitable Sharing Program.

Simple language can close this loophole.

“A law enforcement agency or prosecuting authority may not directly or indirectly transfer seized property to any federal law enforcement authority or other federal agency unless the value of the seized property exceeds $50,000, excluding the potential value of the sale of contraband.”

As the Tenth Amendment Center previously reported, the federal government has inserted itself into the California’s asset forfeiture debate. The feds clearly want the policy to continue.

Why?

We can only guess. But perhaps the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness. After all, the federal government would find it nearly impossible to prosecute its unconstitutional “War on Drugs” without state and local assistance. Asset forfeiture “equitable sharing” provides a pipeline the feds use to incentivize state and local police to serve as de facto arms of the federal government by funneling billions of dollars into their budgets.

NOT MAKING THE GRADE

If amended, S797 would make it more difficult for what the Institute for Justice referred to as ‘Policing for Profit’ and its corrupting influence on public officials to proliferate. The think-tank gave the state of Massachusetts a “D” grade on their comprehensive Asset Forfeiture Report released in 2010.

“The government tends to go after folks who can’t defend themselves adequately,” Dan Alban, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, said in a Watchdog.org report. “Such defense is usually costly and there are few who specialize in it. Furthermore, forfeiture often involves cash that a business needs to operate, which provides an incentive for a fast settlement just to stay in business.”

If amended, S797 would be a much-needed step in the right direction toward reforming civil asset forfeiture in the Bay State.

The bill must be approved by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary before Mar. 2016 to receive a vote in the full Senate.  CONTINUE READING…

Category Archives: Asset Forfeiture

International forfeiture

Land of the Unfree – Police and Prosecutors Fight Aggressively to Retain Barbaric Right of “Civil Asset Forfeiture”

Image result for infowars logo

 

Their effort, at least at the state level, appears to be working

 

Efforts to limit seizures of money, homes and other property from people who may never be convicted of a crime are stalling out amid a wave of pressure from prosecutors and police.

Their effort, at least at the state level, appears to be working. At least a dozen states considered bills restricting or even abolishing forfeiture that isn’t accompanied by a conviction or gives law enforcement less control over forfeited proceeds. But most measures failed to pass.

– From the Wall Street Journal article: Efforts to Curb Asset Seizures by Law Enforcement Hit Headwinds

In a nutshell, civil forfeiture is the practice of confiscating items from people, ranging from cash, cars, even homes based on no criminal conviction or charges, merely suspicion. This practice first became widespread for use against pirates, as a way to take possession of contraband goods despite the fact that the ships’ owners in many cases were located thousands of miles away and couldn’t easily be prosecuted. As is often the case, what starts out reasonable becomes a gigantic organized crime ring of criminality, particularly in a society where the rule of law no longer exists for the “elite,” yet anything goes when it comes to pillaging the average citizen.

One of the major reasons these programs have become so abused is that the police departments themselves are able to keep much of the confiscated money. So they actually have a perverse incentive to steal. As might be expected, a program that is often touted as being effective against going after major drug kingpins, actually targets the poor and disenfranchised more than anything else.

Civil asset forfeiture is state-sanctioned theft. There is no other way around it. The entire concept violates the spirit of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments to the Constitution. In case you have any doubt:

The 4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The 5th Amendment: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The 6th Amendment: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Civil asset forfeiture is a civil rights issue, and it should be seen as such by everyone. Just because it targets the entire population as opposed to a specific race, gender or sexual orientation doesn’t make it less important.

The problem with opposition in America today is that people aren’t seeing modern battle lines clearly. The greatest friction and abuse occurring in these United States today comes from the corporate-fascist state’s attack against average citizens. It doesn’t matter what color or gender you are. If you are weak, poor and vulnerable you are ripe for the picking. Until people see the battle lines clearly, it will be very difficult to achieve real change. Most people are divided and conquered along their superficial little tribal affiliations, and they completely miss the bigger picture to the peril of society. Which is why women will support Hillary just because she’s a woman, not caring in the least that she is a compromised, corrupt oligarch stooge.

In case you have any doubt about how little your opinion matters when it comes to the rights of police to rob you blind, read the following excerpts from the Wall Street Journal:

Efforts to limit seizures of money, homes and other property from people who may never be convicted of a crime are stalling out amid a wave of pressure from prosecutors and police.

Read that sentence over and over again until you get it. This is a free country?

Critics have taken aim at the confiscatory powers over concerns that authorities have too much latitude and often too strong a financial incentive when deciding whether to seize property suspected of being tied to criminal activity.

But after New Mexico passed a law this spring hailed by civil-liberties groups as a breakthrough in their effort to rein in states’ forfeiture programs, prosecutor and police associations stepped up their own lobbying campaign, warning legislators that passing such laws would deprive them of a potent crime-fighting tool and rip a hole in law-enforcement budgets.

Their effort, at least at the state level, appears to be working. At least a dozen states considered bills restricting or even abolishing forfeiture that isn’t accompanied by a conviction or gives law enforcement less control over forfeited proceeds. But most measures failed to pass.

“What happened in those states is a testament to the power of the law-enforcement lobby,” said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning advocacy group that has led a push for laws giving property owners more protections.

It seems the only people in America without a powerful lobby group are actual American citizens. See: Charting the American Oligarchy – How 0.01% of the Population Contributes 42% of All Campaign Cash

Prosecutors say forfeiture laws help ensure that drug traffickers, white-collar thieves and other wrongdoers can’t enjoy the fruits of their misdeeds and help curb crime by depriving criminals of the “tools” of their trade. Under federal law and in many states, a conviction isn’t required.

“White-collar thieves,” they say. Yet I haven’t seen a single bank executive’s assets confiscated. Rather, they received taxpayer bailout funds with which to pay themselves record bonuses after wrecking the global economy. Don’t forget:

The U.S. Department of Justice Handles Banker Criminals Like Juvenile Offenders…Literally

In Texas, lawmakers introduced more than a dozen bills addressing forfeiture during this year’s legislative session, which ended Monday. Some would either force the government to meet a higher burden of proof or subject forfeiture programs to more stringent financial disclosure rules and audits.

But only one bill, which law-enforcement officials didn’t object to, ultimately passed. It requires the state attorney general to publish an annual report of forfeited funds based on data submitted by local authorities. That information, at the moment, is only accessible through freedom-of-information requests.

This is what a corporate-statist oligarchy looks like.

Shannon Edmonds, a lobbyist for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said local enforcement officers and prosecutors “educated their legislators about how asset forfeiture really works in Texas.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan last month vetoed a bill that would, among other things, prohibit the state from turning over seized property to the federal government unless the owner has been charged with a federal crime or gives consent.

Remember, the terrorists hate us for our freedom.

Prosecutors said the Tenaha episode was an isolated breakdown in the system. “Everybody knows there are bad eggs out there,” Karen Morris, who supervises the Harris County district attorney’s forfeiture unit, told Texas lawmakers at a hearing this spring. “But we don’t stop prosecuting people for murder just because some district attorneys have made mistakes.”

When police aren’t out there stealing your hard earned assets without a trial or charges, they can often be found pounding on citizens for kicks. I came across the following three headlines this morning alone as I was the scanning news.

Cop Exonerated After Being Caught on Video Brutally Beating A Tourist Who Asked For A Tampon

Kids in Police-Run Youth Camp Allegedly Beaten, Threatened By Cops

Florida Cop Charged With On-Duty Child Abuse; Suspended With Pay

This is not what freedom looks like.

For related articles, see:

The DEA Strikes Again – Agents Seize Man’s Life Savings Under Civil Asset Forfeiture Without Charges

Asset Forfeiture – How Cops Continue to Steal Americans’ Hard Earned Cash with Zero Repercussions

Quote of the Day – An Incredible Statement from the City Attorney of Las Cruces, New Mexico

“Common People Do Not Carry This Much U.S. Currency…” – This is How Police Justify Stealing American Citizens’ Money

CONTINUE TO "INFOWARS"….

How local cops are still colluding with the feds to seize pot-related assets—even in states with legal marijuana.

 

The Shame of “Equitable Sharing”

How local cops are still colluding with the feds to seize pot-related assets—even in states with legal marijuana.

By Nick Sibilla

 

 

 

When voters in Colorado and Washington state approved legalizing marijuana in 2012, those votes undermined an abusive—and profitable—police practice: civil forfeiture. Unlike with criminal forfeiture, under civil forfeiture people do not have to be convicted of or even charged with a crime to permanently lose their cash, cars, and other property. Police can then auction off that seized property and use the proceeds to fund themselves. In the 42 states that allow police departments to profit from forfeiture, that cash flow has funded both the militarization of police and allowed law enforcement to make ridiculous purchases, including a margarita machine, a Hawaiian vacation, and a Dodge Viper. 

In Colorado and Washington, the federal government processed more than $36 million worth of cash and other property in civil and criminal marijuana forfeitures between 2002 and 2012. Pursuing cannabis cases earned local law enforcement in Washington an additional $6 million to $9 million in forfeiture revenue since 2008. Nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported the federal government scored $1 billion in forfeiture from marijuana cases over the past decade. 

Legalization now threatens that forfeiture revenue for the police departments that have relied on it. Legal cannabis and the subsequent drop in forfeiture have already caused one drug task force in Washington to cut its budget by 15 percent. That’s great news for due process and property rights. 

But marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so local legalization has created ambiguity in civil forfeiture proceedings. Even in states where recreational or medical marijuana is legal, property owned by innocent people is still at risk thanks to “equitable sharing.” This federal program lets local and state law enforcement do an end run around state law and profit from civil forfeiture, simply by collaborating with a federal agency. 

Equitable sharing is a two-way street: For the federal government to “adopt” a forfeiture case, cops can approach the feds and vice versa. The U.S. Department of Justice has applications online for agencies to apply for adoption and to transfer federally forfeited property. Crucially, criminal charges do not have to accompany a civil forfeiture case.

The proceeds from federal forfeitures are deposited into the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture Fund. After the DOJ determines the size of the cut for the feds, equitable sharing allows the local police to take up to 80 percent of what the property is worth. In fiscal year 2012, the federal government paid out almost $700 million in equitable sharing proceeds to local and state law enforcement agencies. 

Equitable sharing tempts cops to become bounty hunters, even in states with legal marijuana. Tony Jalali is living proof of this travesty. Jalali almost lost his business over four grams of marijuana.

After immigrating to the United States from Iran in 1978, Jalali became a successful small business owner. Jalali owns an office building in Anaheim, Calif.—worth around $1.5 million—that he rents out to fund his retirement. 

Among the more staid tenants—a dentist’s office, an insurance company—was ReLeaf Health & Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary. Posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation, an undercover Anaheim police officer bought $37 worth of cannabis from that dispensary. Keep in mind that medical marijuana sales were—and are—legal in California under state law, and this Anaheim cop worked for local law enforcement, not the feds.

Jalali never bought or sold marijuana. Jalali was not charged with any crime nor was he warned that renting to a dispensary could lead to civil forfeiture. “I had no idea I was doing anything wrong,” Jalali said.

Yet for the DEA, which collaborated with Anaheim police in pursing the forfeiture, that $37 pot sale was enough evidence that Jalali should lose his property. 

This Kafkaesque nightmare should not have happened under California law. Not only did California voters legalize medical marijuana in 1996, state law bans forfeiting real property (like a home or a business) unless the owner has been convicted of a crime related to the property. In fact, Anaheim authorities even requested aid from California prosecutors to take action against Jalali’s property. State officials refused.

But the state’s protections don’t exist on the federal level. By participating in equitable sharing, Anaheim police could directly benefit from a federal forfeiture, bypassing California law to cash in on Jalali’s property. 

His case was not an isolated incident. In just the Central District of California alone (which includes Anaheim and Los Angeles), the U.S. attorney’s office filed 30 forfeiture actions against landlords and threatened more than 525 marijuana businesses in 2012 and 2013. Since 2008, Anaheim police have received over $21 million in forfeiture proceeds from the federal government. At the same time, for four straight years the city-owned Anaheim Convention Center has hosted the Kush Expo, the world’s largest medical marijuana trade show.

Both the ACLU and the Institute for Justice (IJ), where I work, have launched campaigns to close the equitable sharing loophole and end policing for profit. IJ took Jalali’s case pro bono. The federal government dropped the forfeiture suit this past October and cannot refile the case. 

For the time being, the feds appear to be shifting priorities. Last August, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced new guidelines to U.S. attorneys. If state laws regarding marijuana don’t conflict with federal law enforcement priorities (like keeping cannabis away from kids and preventing it from crossing state lines), the feds will defer to the states. But even that cautious memo is filled with caveats, like “this memorandum does not alter in any way the Department’s authority to enforce federal law, including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

The equitable sharing loophole still exists. The federal government can continue to prosecute criminal cases and litigate civil forfeiture actions related to cannabis. Citing the risk of federal forfeiture, Wells Fargo, one of Colorado’s largest banks, has refused to finance properties in that state’s marijuana industry. 

Top Comment

Few things have been more corrosive to the basic concepts of due process and other constitutional protections for citizens/restrictions on police than the War on Drugs.    More…

-ATLDave

17 Comments Join In

Buying recreational marijuana has been legal in Colorado only since Jan. 1 and pot stores haven’t opened yet in Washington. Yet selling the plant has already generated $14 million in Colorado—a tempting cash cow for local police.

The incentives behind equitable sharing are primed for abuse. Property owners’ protection from forfeiture currently depends on prosecutorial discretion. That is no substitute for meaningful legal reform.

Nick Sibilla is a writer for the Institute for Justice.

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