Asset Forfeiture

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Illegal drugs add to tax yield

Location: 
TN
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Tennessean
URL: 
http://tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070103/NEWS01/701030430/1006/NEWS

Forfeiture Insanity: Three Cars for Oxycontin Possession

That’s right possession. Via The Agitator, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey has gone crazy, drug war style. They’re cracking down on prescription drug abuse, primarily by indiscriminately confiscating automobiles from all sorts of people, including a cop.

From dailyrecord.com:

Parent Gerard Trapp, a Bloomfield police officer, said the seizure of three family cars is extreme, since neither he nor his wife knew of any alleged drug use by their son, and Trapp Jr. was charged with a relatively minor offense. He was never accused of being a dealer or supplier.

This sort of mind-numbing injustice comes naturally to many local-level drug warriors. I’m shocked, but only sort of, having been recently shocked over and over again by equally horrible tales of forfeiture abuse.

The Trapp family’s lawyer calls it extortion, probably because of this:

The prosecutor's office seized in July the family's 1992 Cadillac SDV, a 1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and a 1994 Toyota Camry. Trapp said the prosecutor's office initially told him the three cars could be bought back for $3,000 and have since lowered the amount to $1,500 for all three vehicles. But the Trapps have not bought back their own vehicles.

Good for them. Most people would just cut their losses and get those cars back before they end up in the prosecutor’s garage. But apparently, the Trapps found their son’s minor indiscretion an insufficient justification for having police confiscate their property and demand cash for its return.

Alas, forfeiture thuggery and unscrupulous profiteering just go with the territory. Only by ending the drug war in its entirety can we do away with the daily injustices that too many Americans take for granted.

Location: 
United States

Seizure law under review: Police's policy of seizing criminals' cars draws criticism (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061030/NEWS/610300457

Law Enforcement: Lawsuit Shines Light on Florida Police Department's Shady Forfeiture Practice

A lawsuit filed by a young Bradenton, Florida, man to win the return of $10,000 in cash seized from him by the Bradenton Police Department has shined a light on a longstanding -- and possibly illegal -- asset forfeiture policy by the department. Under the Florida Contraband Act, persons whose money and property were seized by police have the right to have a judge rule on the legality of the seizure. But the Bradenton police have for years been using their own "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement," which people arrested are told to sign to agree to give up their property and waive any legal recourse.

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Florida's finest...
The practice came to light last week, when the Sarasota Herald Tribune began reporting on the case of Delane Johnson, 20, who was stopped outside an apartment house in July. When police spotted a wad of cash in his pants pocket, he told them he was using the money for a party. They arrested him on the rarely-used charge of failing to report a business transaction in excess of $10,000 (he had $10,020). Police claim Johnson signed the "Contraband Forfeiture Agreement" -- a claim he disputes -- and they deposited the money in a police bank account.

County prosecutors dropped the charges, saying it was not a crime to carry cash, but police refused to return the money. Now Johnson is in court fighting to get his money back.

"The whole arrest was bogus. It's awful," attorney Varinia Van Ness, who represented Johnson, told the Herald Tribune. She wants the courts to order the department to follow state law instead of continuing its end run around the law.

"Hopefully, we'll put a stop to it when we get in front of a judge," said attorney Louis Daniel Lazaro, who also represents Johnson. "There are possible corruption charges on a criminal level."

This wouldn't be the first time people have gone to court to get their money back. Last year, a Manatee county judge ordered Bradenton police to return $7,000 seized from a woman who was arrested for a driver's license violation after a traffic stop. Judge Douglas Henderson ruled that the woman did not knowingly and willingly agree to have her money confiscated even though her named appeared on the forfeiture agreement.

The Bradenton Police Department's unusual practice was viewed with concern by attorneys and constitutional scholars contacted by the Herald Tribune. They said police may be pressuring people to sign away their rights, a charge some local residents said was true.

"Who knows what they are telling people to get them to sign it," said Sarasota-based defense attorney Henry E. Lee, who represented a woman last year in a police forfeiture case in Bradenton. "This is a source of revenue for the police, and it's just rife for abuse."

"It sounds like robbery to me," said Joseph Little, a law school professor at the University of Florida.

Bradenton police have seized more than $12,000 from 15 people arrested since August. Janie Brooks, 56, was one of them. She was in her front yard in a poor neighborhood when police swooped in, said they found drugs, and seized her car and $1,200 cash. As she sat in the back of a patrol car, police pressured her into signing the forfeiture form, she said. "He kept rushing me, like, 'Go ahead, things will be better if you did,'" Brooks said. "It was like, there's gonna be some big time stuff that happens to me if I don't sign it."

Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski was unrepentant. "If you're selling drugs, I'm going to take your money, your car, your house -- if I can get it," he said. "That's my goal here. Eventually we're going to seize someone's house." He also accused Delane Johnson of being a drug dealer, though he was never charged with a drug-related offense. "Does he really think a judge will give him back his drug money? God bless him if a judge goes along with that."

It's little wonder Radzilowski defends the practice. The county's asset forfeiture fund, which the department uses to buy new equipment and pay for drug education and other programs, has gone as high as $150,000.

Divided [Oregon] Supreme Court Upholds Restrictions on Police Seizures

Location: 
OR
United States
Publication/Source: 
Salem Statesman Journal
URL: 
http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061020/STATE/610200326/1042

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Legality of Property Protection Act of 2000

For Immediate Release: Contact: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 October 19, 2006 Daniel Abrahamson (510) 295-5635 Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Legality of Property Protection Act of 2000 Asset Forfeiture Reform Requires Conviction before Law Enforcement Can Seize Property; Seized Property Goes to Fund Treatment, Not to Enrich Police Forces Ruling Ends Six-year Legal Challenge to Popular Voter-approved Initiative The Oregon State Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling today upholding Measure 3, the ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved in 2000 by voters that dramatically reformed Oregon's asset forfeiture laws. Today's decision comes in the case Lincoln Interagency Narcotics Team v. Kitzhaber, Case No. S50904 Measure 3 - The Oregon Property Protection Act of 2000 - was passed with 67.2 percent of the statewide vote - and a 60 percent majority in each of the state's 36 counties. The measure rewrote the state's forfeiture practices by preventing private property from being forfeited unless the individual was convicted of a crime, limiting the amount of assets forfeited in accordance with the severity of the crime, and directing the proceeds from forfeited property toward the funding of drug treatment programs instead of law enforcement budgets. “Today, the Supreme Court upheld the clear will of the voters,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization devoted to drug policy reform, which worked with local organizations and individuals to craft and pass Measure 3 and funded the litigation to protect the law. “Not only do the people wish to be assured that forfeitures are reined in, they shall encourage it by removing the carrot which otherwise would tempt the two political branches of government to treat the criminal law as a revenue-raising source,” noted Abrahamson, quoting from the opinion. According to Abrahamson, “today's decision not only makes sure that people have basic protections from having their assets forfeited, but directs the forfeiture proceeds to where the money can make the most difference in creating safer communities and saving lives: by funding drug treatment programs.” Following its passage, the Lincoln County Interagency Narcotics Team, one of many drug teams whose operating budget was almost entirely financed from forfeiture dollars, filed suit in state court challenging the constitutionality of Measure 3, claiming it violated the state’s “separate-vote” requirement for ballot initiatives by making more than one substantive change to the state constitution. Backers of Measure 3 won an early court victory and the initiative has remained on the books through today's ruling. Portland attorney Eli Stutsman, who defended Measure 3 before the court, said “today’s decision brings a welcome conclusion to the long and complex battle over Measure 3. We appreciate the careful consideration that the Supreme Court gave this case and the high level of professionalism and advocacy by all the parties involved. Naturally, we are also pleased with the decision handed us by the court.”
Location: 
OR
United States

Rainbow Farm Deaths Remembered: Supporters Mark Fifth Anniversary of Campground Standoff

Location: 
Cassopolis, MI
United States
Publication/Source: 
South Bend Tribune
URL: 
http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060905/News01/609050379

Asset Forfeiture: Federal Appeal Upholds Seizure of Cash Despite Lack of Drugs

A federal appeals court has held that police acted within the law when they seized nearly $125,000 in cash from a man's car during a traffic stop, even though no drugs were found in the car. A three-judge panel from the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals found in US v. $124,700 in US Currency that the cash may have been linked to the drug trade, overturning an earlier decision by a US Magistrate Court judge in Nebraska.

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House of Evil: the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals
Emilio Gonzolez was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 80 in 2003. Gonzolez told the officer the car he was driving had been rented by someone named Luis, that he had never been arrested, and that he was not carrying drugs, guns, or large sums of money. Gonzolez then consented to a search of the vehicle, which turned up $124,700 in cash in a cooler on the back seat. Police also learned that Gonzolez had been arrested for drunk driving and that the person who rented the car was not named Luis. Police then sicced a drug dog on the vehicle, and the dog alerted on the cash and on the seat where it was sitting.

In court, Gonzolez testified that he had flown from California to Chicago and planned to use the cash to buy a refrigerated truck there, but when he arrived there, the truck had already been sold. He decided to drive back to California, but needed someone to rent a car because he had no credit card, he testified. Gonzolez said he lied about having the money because he feared carrying large amounts of cash could be illegal and he hid it in the cooler because he was afraid it might be stolen. He testified that he didn’t reveal the drunk driving arrest because he didn’t think drunk driving was a crime.

Gonzolez' tale may have been barely credible, but any positive evidence linking his stash of cash to drug trafficking was hard to come by. Still, the appeals court overturned the original decision. "We believe that the evidence as a whole demonstrates... that there was a substantial connection between the currency and a drug trafficking offense," the court wrote. "We have adopted the commonsense view that bundling and concealment of large amounts of currency, combined with other suspicious circumstances, supports a connection between money and drug trafficking."

That wasn’t good enough for dissenting Judge Donald Lay, who argued that there was no evidence linking the cash to drug trafficking. "At most, the evidence presented suggests the money seized may have been involved in some illegal activity -- activity that is incapable of being ascertained on the record before us," Lay wrote.

But what about the drug dog alerting on the cash and the car seat? "Finally, the mere fact that the canine alerted officers to the presence of drug residue in a rental car, no doubt driven by dozens, perhaps scores, of patrons during the course of a given year, coupled with the fact that the alert came from the same location where the currency was discovered, does little to connect the money to a controlled substance offense," Lay reasoned.

San Diego attorney Donald Yates, who represents Gonzolez, told the Associated Press they would appeal the decision. People who do not have credit or bank accounts and who must do business in cash are being treated unfairly, he said. "They do not allow for anybody to have a lifestyle different from the average person in Nebraska."

Court Rules 2003 Money Seizure Correct Despite No Drugs Found

Location: 
Omaha, NE
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/15310257.htm

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