On May 19, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan signed into law House Bill 336, which had the support of 167 of Maryland’s 185 elected representatives. Americans are politically polarized, but agree on one matter: they do not like it when government steals from innocent people.
The Maryland bill further curtails the state’s civil asset forfeiture programs. Civil forfeiture, at least according to the Justice Department, “deprives wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes.”
Civil forfeiture does not require proof.But there is just one glaring omission from this definition—civil forfeiture does not require any proof (or even claim) that people committed crimes for the government to take their property.
By the twisted logic of civil forfeiture, property itself is charged with the crime. This is why civil forfeiture cases have absurd names such as United States v. One Solid Gold Object in Form of a Rooster or United States vs. $35,651.11 in U.S. Currency.
Since the Bill of Rights covers property owners instead of property, victims of civil forfeiture are forced to prove their property innocent in order to get it back. And they are not entitled to legal assistance. This is why many people do not fight back after their property is seized—it is simply too expensive to win a court case against the government.
Read the full article at FEE.
[Co-authored with Trevor Burrus)
The Justice Department recently announced that it is resuming the “equitable sharing” part of its civil asset forfeiture program, thus ending one of the major criminal justice reform victories of the Obama administration.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool by which police officers can seize and sell private property without a convicting the owner of any crime, and equitable sharing is a process by which state and local police can circumvent state restrictions on civil asset forfeiture and take property under the color of federal law.
It may sound like a scene from a dystopian novel, but under civil asset forfeiture, a police officer can pull you over, claim he smells marijuana, and then take all the cash you have — and maybe even your car, too. Getting your property back requires going through lengthy court procedures to prove that the property is “innocent.”
Back in December, after Congress enacted reductions to the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture fund by $1.2 billion, the Justice Department announced that the program was being deferred until further notice.
Read the rest on The Detroit News, here.
The Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) last Friday which would reform civil asset forfeiture in the Sunshine State, a controversial practice whereby police seize the private property of citizens on the mere suspicion that it may have been connected to a crime, whether the person is guilty or not.
The reform bill has now moved to the Florida House. Under the new law, police would be required to have a conviction of a crime and proof that the property was involved in the crime for the assets to be seized. This appalling practice disproportionately affects Hispanics, and for the more than 4 million that call the Sunshine State their home, civil asset forfeiture is a significant barrier to opportunity.
“Property rights are pivotal to the foundation of liberty, and civil forfeiture has been eroding that foundation for decades,” stated Sen. Brandes in a press release. He added:
“Today we have strong bipartisan support behind the simple notion that the government should have to arrest you before they can take your property, and if they want to keep your property because they believe it is contraband then the government must seek the highest standard our justice system affords – proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Florida has been given a score of D+ on civil asset forfeiture, according to the 2015 Policing for Profit study by the Institute for Justice, a national libertarian law firm. The abysmal ranking stems from a wide range of factors, such as the perverse incentives Florida’s system creates.
Read the full article at Blog Libre, here.
The Institute for Justice recently released the second edition of its Policing for Profit report on the abuse of civil asset forfeiture. According to the report, the Keystone State “has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country.” The Institute for Justice gave Pennsylvania a D-, with only Massachusetts and North Dakota scoring worse.
The city of Philadelphia was especially bad, garnering special notice in the main body of the report for what is described as a “forfeiture machine” that serves as a cash cow for the city police, and district attorney’s office. As the report notes “between 2002 and 2013, forfeiture revenues were equivalent to nearly one-fifth of the Philadelphia district attorney’s budget.”
This low grade is tied to three main factors: the “low bar to forfeit,” with “no conviction required”; “the poor protections for innocent third-party property owners”; and the bad incentives created by the fact that “100 percent of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.”
Read the rest on Watchdog here.
Americans understand the importance of the principle of innocent until proven guilty. However, a problematic, growing government program turns this long-standing ideal on its head. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to take personal property without even accusing individuals of a crime, much less proving them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Tuesday the Institute for Justice released Policing for Profit, a report that shows the growth in this abuse of power. Civil forfeiture does not just need to be curtailed—it needs to be ended.
Read the rest on CapX America here.