Friday, March 20, 2015

Part 2: Myths About The Civil Forfeiture Reform

Continuing from yesterday's piece, rebutting myths that have sprung up in opposition to the reform:

Myth 1) Even if police witness a drug sale, they can't do anything if it's less than $300

They can still arrest the people involved, impound the money, send the people to jail, and get the money forfeited as proceeds of criminal activity.

The claim that drug dealers will simply carry less than $300 doesn't change the fact that they go to jail once they're convicted. But it does prevent cops from seizing small amounts of cash and letting the owner go, knowing that the cash value is too low for them to try and get it back.

Myth 2) The law prohibits assisting the Federal Government is prosecuting crime

The point of the prohibition is to eliminate equitable sharing. If a case is being brought in Federal court, the law explicitly allows the seized property to be turned over to the Feds.

This prohibition is a direct response to police practice in other states that have passed similar reforms. If the police are prohibited from using civil forfeiture themselves, it immediately becomes standard practice to bring a Federal agent along to make the seizure, and then turn the property over to the local police. Since the income comes from the Federal government, it doesn't fall under that State's forfeiture laws. It's an intentional evasion of the law by police.

Myth 3) It will force law enforcement to rush cases and reveal their plans too early

The police are required to file charges within 90 days. They're not required to get a conviction, or even get a hearing within that time-frame, but simply to file charges or return the property. If the police cannot gather enough evidence over 3 months to meet the requirements to file charges, then they didn't have enough evidence to seize the property.

What's more, filing charges doesn't force police to stop investigating or to turn cases over to prosecutors and walk away. The police still have a lot of time to conduct their investigation before it reaches a trial.

As for revealing plans, well, the police can't claim that. They start the clock when they seize property, which is the biggest tip-off to any potential defendants short of arrest. What's more, this is a response to the practice of seizing property "involved in" crime but never charging the owner of committing that crime, carefully avoiding judicial oversight.

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