Police Abuse: Civil asset forfeiture

Washington Post has a very thorough article (actually a whole series of them) on abuse of the civil asset forfeiture program (also known as interdiction or seizure) by police, for fun and profit.

It’s not a new problem (the article references a Pulitzer prize from 1993!), but this article has some very interesting information regarding the companies that have been started who teach the cops how to do this.  They actually view themselves as some sort of “robin hoods.”

“All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,” Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt.

Hain’s book calls for “turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.”

LOL, yeah, in reverse!!

In addition, the “Black Asphalt” referred to above is a database used to store all kinds of personal information about people (unrelated to any law enforcement action).  The cops use it to keep track of who they are stealing from.  Sounds like a good way to tract systematic extortion to me.

The article has several stories of innocent people being bullied into giving their cash to police:

On Nov. 1, 2011, Jose Jeronimo Sorto and his brother-in-law, Victor Ramos Guzman, were driving a rented sedan on I-95 south of Richmond when a Virginia state trooper stopped them. Both were lay leaders of the Pentecostal Nuevo Renacer church in Baltimore. They were carrying $28,500 in church funds meant for the purchase of land to build a church in El Salvador and a trailer for a new congregation in North Carolina.

Their experience has been cited as a case study in civil forfeiture abuse by The Post’s editorial page, the New Yorker magazine and others. Unknown until now in the public debate is the fact that the trooper who made the stop, C.L. Murphy, is a top interdiction trainer for Virginia State Police and Desert Snow, as well as a member of Black Asphalt.

Here’s another interesting article about forfeiture:

Threats to Due Process

Asset forfeiture has been extensively criticized on constitutional grounds.61 Critics allege that forfeiture violates, among other constitutional provisions, (1) the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause; (2) the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; and (3) the Eight Amendment’s excessive fines and punishment clauses.

Concerning the first challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court held that civil asset forfeiture does not violate the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause.62 In other words, asset forfeiture does not constitute “punishment” in the traditional sense. In contrast, the Supreme Court held that forfeiture can violate due process.63 At one point, there was no federal requirement that interested owners be notified before their property was forfeited. The Court held:

the seizure of real property…is not one of those extraordinary instances that justify the postponement of notice and hearing. Unless exigent circumstances are present, the Due Process Clause requires the Government to afford notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard before seizing real property subject to civil forfeiture (p. 62).

In another important case64, the Supreme Court addressed a challenge to a civil forfeiture action on the grounds that it violated the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. It held that “forfeiture generally and statutory in rem forfeiture in particular, historically have been understood, at least in part, as punishment” and that “[w]e therefore conclude that forfeiture under these provisions constitutes ‘payment to a sovereign as punishment for some offense,’ and, as such, is subject to the limitations of the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.”65

I really don’t understand how it can be allowed in America for the government to randomly take people’s stuff without ever charging them with a crime.

Right on time, here’s a current example from Slate.  WTH.

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1 Comment

Filed under Government

One response to “Police Abuse: Civil asset forfeiture

  1. as a victim of one of these stops it’s nothing short of a nightmare scenario

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