Institute For Justice and others sound out about what a growing number of citizens have to say about civil asset forfeiture and money-hungry, out of control police and prosecutors at federal, state and local levels who seize property and cash from citizens without good cause, oversight or rational due process. —- By Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and Jennifer McDonald, with contributions from Wesley Hottot and Keith Diggs.
What some observers have to say …
The Rise of Civil Forfeiture – The New Yorker
Aug 12, 2013 – “Unfortunately, I think I can say that our civil-asset-forfeiture laws are being used in terribly unjust ways,” Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman …”
Civil Asset Forfeiture Is the Opposite of Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Aug 24, 2016 – “Civil asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives that can cost you your property.” –usnews.com
civil asset forfeiture abuse – American Civil Liberties Union
“Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience. Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they …”
Law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did last …
Nov 23, 2015 – “Through the highly controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Last year, according to the Institute for Justice, the Treasury and Justice …”
Civil Asset Forfeiture – Techdirt.
“Trump’s Pick For Attorney General A Big Fan Of Civil Asset Forfeiture …”
Asset forfeiture – Wikipedia
“Asset forfeiture or asset seizure is a form of confiscation of assets by the state. It typically … This article is about the confiscation/forfeiture of assets in common law … Civil asset forfeiture has been harshly criticized by civil liberties advocates for …”
End Civil Forfeiture: What is Civil Forfeiture?
“This updated and expanded second edition of Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture makes the case for reform, grading the civil forfeiture laws of …”
Asset Forfeiture – Reason.com
“Over opposition from law enforcement, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill barring civil asset forfeiture in cases under $15,000. C.J. Ciaramella| 12.9.2016. Article …”
Civil Asset Forfeiture: Unfair, Unconstitutional, and Just Plain Wrong …
Aug 16, 2016 – “Civil asset forfeiture is being massively abused by law-enforcement agencies, since all the incentives encourage them to do so. … ”
Civil Forfeiture and the Temptation to Seize
“Critics of civil forfeiture argue that giving law enforcement a financial stake in seizures encourages agencies to put revenue generation ahead of public safety or justice. Chapman University economist Bart J. Wilson and co-author Michael Preciado designed a cutting-edge experiment to see whether the financial incentives baked into many civil forfeiture laws influence behavior. 1 Results were clear: Civil forfeiture creates a strong temptation for law enforcement agencies to seize property to enhance their budgets, even at the expense of other priorities.”
“Thus the problem with civil forfeiture is less “bad apples” among officers than it is the laws themselves. Indeed, some law enforcement officials have openly acknowledged the powerful temptations civil forfeiture creates:
* Above excerpt from “Policing For Profit” pdf
Civil Forfeiture Machine Grinds Property Owners Down
INTIMIDATION AT WORK OR LAW ENFORCEMENT?
The most terrifying place in Philadelphia is Courtroom 478 in City Hall. This is where property owners enter the city’s civil forfeiture machine, which chews up their rights while churning out revenue for Philadelphia police and prosecutors.
Owners wishing to contest the seizure of their cash, cars and homes must go to Courtroom 478. For years, prosecutors alone—not judges or juries—have run this “courtroom,” often telling property owners they do not need a lawyer before handing them a stack of complicated legal documents to complete. Prosecutors have also “relisted” cases, forcing owners to return to Courtroom 478 multiple times. Missing even one court date could mean losing property forever through default.
When homes have been taken under “seize-and-seal” orders, prosecutors have pressured owners to agree to unreasonable and unconstitutional conditions in order to regain access to their homes pending a final determination in their cases. Conditions have included waiving their constitutional rights in future civil forfeiture actions or even barring loved ones from their homes.
Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture machine is notable for its scope and efficiency. Up to 80 cases of all types have been listed for “hearing” in Courtroom 478 in a single day. The district attorney’s office won over 90 percent of its 8,284 cash-forfeiture cases in 2010. Philadelphia homeowners face even worse odds: Owners won in only 30 of the nearly 2,000 real-property cases filed from 2008 to 2012.
Altogether, civil forfeiture generated more than $69 million in revenue for the district attorney’s office between 2002 and 2013—an annual average of almost $5.8 million. The office spent about 40 percent of these funds on salaries, including those of the very prosecutors who have been running Courtroom 478. 8 This financial stake, and the conflict of interest it engenders, is the engine of the Philadelphia civil forfeiture machine.
Philadelphia is thus the quintessential example of what happens when state actors face bad incentives and few restrictions, something Chris Sourovelis discovered in March 2014 when his son was arrested for selling $40 worth of drugs outside the family home.
Although Sourovelis had committed no crime, he was thrown out of his home and into Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture machine.
To regain access to their home, Sourovelis and his wife agreed, without legal representation, to ban their son from the premises and change the locks, among other things. 10 After seven days, the Sourovelises—minus their son—were back in their home, but they still were not in the clear. They had to appear in Courtroom 478 no fewer than nine times.
In August 2014, Sourovelis filed a class-action lawsuit brought by the Institute for Justice against the city and the district attorney’s office for violating his and others’ constitutional rights. Under pressure from the federal lawsuit and public opinion, the district attorney’s office dropped the forfeiture case against Sourovelis’ home in late 2014. 12 In a partial class-wide settlement, the office also agreed, in mid-2015, to stop seizing homes without giving owners warning and a chance to make their case before a judge, unless it could show such actions were necessary to prevent crimes. The office will no longer order homes sealed, absent exigent circumstances, before owners have had their day in court, nor will it demand that family members be banned from the premises.
These changes should prevent other homeowners from suffering the same ordeal the Sourovelises did. But more must be done to dismantle Philadelphia’s forfeiture machine once and for all, and so the litigation continues. Most significantly, law enforcement in the city still enjoys the financial fruits of forfeiture, and as long as this financial incentive persists, it is doubtful that Philadelphians and their property will be safe from the civil forfeiture machine.
With Civil Forfeiture, IRS Cleans Out Bank Accounts
Lyndon McLellan runs a convenience store in Fairmont, N.C., and has done so without incident for more than a decade. All that changed in 2014, when the Internal Revenue Service used civil forfeiture to seize McLellan’s entire $107,000 bank account. He did not stand accused of selling drugs or even of cheating on his taxes; in fact, he was not charged with any crime at all. Rather, the IRS claimed that he had been “structuring” his deposits—that is, breaking them into amounts of less than $10,000 to evade federal reporting requirements for large transactions. McLellan, like most people, did not even know what “structuring” was, let alone that it was illegal. His niece, who handles the deposits, had been advised by a bank teller that smaller deposits meant less paperwork for the bank, so she kept deposits small.
Unfortunately, McLellan ’s case is not unusual. From 2005 to 2012, the IRS seized more than $242 million in over 2,500 structuring cases. In theory, the IRS keeps an eye out for structuring to catch criminals laundering money or committing financial crimes. Yet more than a third of those structuring cases were civil actions where only structuring, and no other crime, was suspected.
In Iowa, Carole Hinders had $33,000 seized after making frequent small cash deposits, even though all of the money had been legitimately earned at her cash-only Mexican restaurant. In Michigan, Terry Dehko and Sandy Thomas lost more than $35,000 from their family grocery store’s bank account just a few months after a routine IRS audit had found the business clean as a whistle.
In each case, civil forfeiture made it possible for the IRS to raid bank accounts without any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Had the IRS been forced to prove crimes had occurred—or even just to perform any kind of investigation—it would have discovered that each of these small-business owners had legitimate reasons for making small deposits. Instead, McLellan, Hinders, and Dehko and Thomas had to go to court and fight to get their money back.
After these cases gained publicity, in the fall of 2014, the IRS announced that it would no longer pursue bank accounts unless it believed the money came from illegal activity. Yet a federal prosecutor continued pursuing forfeiture of McLellan’s money, even accusing him of “ratchet[ing] up feelings in the agency” by going public with his plight. Only in the face of public criticism did the government back down and return the funds—though it has refused to pay legal fees, costs and interest to which McLellan is entitled.
Additionally, victims of the old policy have yet to be made whole. The IRS forfeited money belonging to Randy Sowers and Ken Quran, small-business owners in Maryland and North Carolina, without any evidence that they had done anything wrong. Now that the IRS has admitted its old practices were flawed, Sowers and Quran are petitioning for their money back.
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Originating authors: Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., Lisa Knepper, Angela C. Erickson and Jennifer McDonald