Tag Archives: Police

Pennsylvania’s civil asset forfeiture laws among worst in America

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.

13 ways 2015 is better than ‘Back to the Future II’ predicted

Thirty years ago Doc Brown, Marty McFly and Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer travelled through time to … today: October 21, 2015.

Many media articles are pointing out all the things “Back to the Future” predicted accurately (a Cubs World Series victory?) and all the technology we still haven’t figured out (flying cars, hoverboards, self-drying clothes, etc.).

Here at the Washington Examiner we’re a little more optimistic. We’d like to point out everything that’s even better in reality than was predicted in “Back to the Future Part II.”

Read the rest on the Washington Examiner here.

Effecting Change Outside the Law: 4 Things More Important Than the Written Code

What change do you want to see in the world? Maybe you want marijuana to be legal. Or you want to curtail police brutality.  Or perhaps you want to reduce the racial disparity in prisons.

One way to effect these changes is to get the law amended on paper. To do that, you’ll need a bill, a committee, a vote, and a signature — not to mention time and toil. In 2012, candidates and interest groups spent nearly $4 billion influencing congressional elections. And that’s only at the federal level.

What a waste of time and money.

The focus on legislation belies how justice — particularly criminal justice — actually works. Codified law is one small cog in a giant machine. Discretionary application of statutes, regulations, and judicial opinions determines so much more than written words. Even within the legal system, individual choice and action rule the day.

You see, the written law barely matters. It’s just words on a page. If you want to change something in society, focus on influencing the cogs that matter. Here are four of them:

1. Police

A law means nothing if it’s not enforced. Police departments have limited resources. They must prioritize. In practice, they enforce some laws with an iron fist, and they completely ignore others. Hopefully, they pay more attention to dead bodies than to doobies. But often their incentives are just the opposite.

Police officers need “reasonable suspicion” to stop you and “probable cause” to arrest you, both of which are very low standards. Yet, even if there is probable cause to make an arrest, an officer does not have to act on it.

Discretion allows traffic cops, for example, to issue a warning instead of a citation. And nobody (except maybe dairy farmers) wants cops arresting restaurateurs for not serving margarine just because thelegislature says margarine is mandatory. Theoretically, officers are able to examine a situation and forego using the arrest power unless absolutely necessary.

If exercised diligently, discretion enables police to improve relationships with communities. As University of Wisconsin Law School professor emeritus Herman Goldstein observed in 1963,

Police officials too often fail to recognize that there are many in the communities which they serve who have an inherent distaste for authority — and especially police authority.… It behooves law enforcement officials to refrain from unnecessarily creating a situation which annoys such individuals.

The limited exceptions to discretion demonstrate its importance. For example, some states mandate an arrest for domestic violence calls. The complicated nature of such situations often leads to dual arrests, which leaves children without their parents. Mandatory arrests disempower victims by revoking choice. In general, they promote an overreliance on criminal problem-solving strategies by precluding other means of conflict resolution.

By the way, police officers don’t actually need to know the law. The Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Heien v. North Carolina confirmed that when stopping or arresting someone, officers are allowed to make “reasonable” mistakes about the law. For better or worse, the law on the streets amounts to what an officer reasonably believes it is, not what it actually is on paper.

After making an arrest, police have further discretion. They can release you. They can refer your case to a district attorney. Sometimes they can refer your case to a city attorney to prosecute it as a civil ordinance violation. That means no criminal record and no threat of jail time — just a fine.

2. District attorneys

District attorneys don’t do anything until the police send the accused their way. Without a referral, a DA probably won’t even know anything happened. Even when the police do refer a case, the DA often tosses it out.

DAs have full discretion over which “perps” to prosecute and which to completely ignore. They also have discretionary power over what charge to bring against the accused. A DA can legally charge any version of an offense for which probable cause exists — from an aggravated felony to a minor misdemeanor.

The charging decision depends on multiple factors. First, resource restraints require DAs to make conscious decisions about what cases are economically worth pursuing. Second, political pressure forces elected DAs to be “tough” on certain crimes — which means being lenient on others. Third, a particular DA may have a moral or ethical reason for forgoing charges.

Read the rest at The Freeman…

Advocate Julian Published in The Canal on Eric Garner

Advocate Julian Adorney was published in The Canal, the official blog of The PanAmerican Post, on the Eric Garner case and police competition.

On July 17, officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death for selling untaxed cigarettes. On December 3, a grand jury elected not to indict Pantaleo. He will face no charges.

The case has gripped the attention of the nation, in part because it reveals how powerless ordinary citizens are to drive change in police forces. Thousands have protested Pantaleo’s actions across the country. The entire altercation between Pantaleo and Garner was captured on video. The coroner involved ruled Garner’s death a homicide, and it is about as clear-cut a case of police brutality as there is.

Read the rest of the piece here.

If you’d like to speak with or book Julian or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices today.

Advocate Furdek Published by TownHall

Young Voices Advocate Rebecca Furdek was published by TownHall writing about civil asset forfeiture:

Because of the growth of the forfeiture regime, and the resulting increased awareness of this absurd regime in recent years, there is far more than dollars at stake. Morale is on the line. Credibility is on the line. The doctrine of innocent until proven guilty, and the resulting long-held public assurance of this being the rightful relationship of the state to individuals, is on the line. And if law enforcement truly values these dire social and philosophical concerns, they will not forfeit their own credibility for the mere sake of profit.

You can find the entire opinion piece here.

If you’d like to speak with or book Rebecca or any of our other Advocates, please contact Young Voices now.