Posts Tagged ‘forfeiture’

Public opinion and forfeiture reform

At a meeting yesterday with President Donald Trump, sheriffs complained “that they were under pressure to ease the practice” of civil asset forfeiture, that is, seizing cars, houses, and bank accounts whether or not the owners had been convicted of any crime. Per Reuters, Trump “voiced disagreement with lawmakers who want to change asset forfeiture laws” and “said members of the U.S. Congress would ‘get beat up really badly by the voters’ if they interfered with law enforcement’s activities.”

One reason reform of civil asset forfeiture has made rapid progress lately in legislatures around the country, including my own state of Maryland, is that the public strongly disapproves of the current state of the law when it is explained. In December Cato released a polling study on criminal justice issues, led by my colleague Emily Ekins. Among its findings: “Fully 84% of Americans oppose the practice of police taking ‘a person’s money or property that is suspected to have been involved in a drug crime before the person is convicted of a crime.’ Only 16% approve.” The strong majority extends across all groups of respondents, including Republicans (76%) and those with a highly favorable attitude toward police (78%). Asked what should happen with the proceeds of seizures upon conviction, only 24% of the public favored letting local police departments keep the seized goods or cash, while 76% said it should go instead to state-level coffers. which would reduce the incentive for zealous seizure.

The same opinion survey found that 64% of the American public held a favorable view of their local police, a consensus extending across both parties and all major ideological groups. So if the survey is accurate, the American public supports police while opposing civil asset forfeiture. More: statement from Matt Miller, managing attorney of the Texas office of the Institute for Justice.

December 28 roundup

Police roundup

  • The stalker wore a badge: AP finds mass abuse by police of non-public databases to check out romantic interests, celebrities, journalists;
  • Union-backed bill: “Pennsylvania lawmakers approve ban on naming officers in shootings” [Philadelphia Daily News]
  • How Chicago’s FOP shapes coverage of police shootings [Chicago Reader] Reason coverage of police unions here, here (Cleveland demand to stop open carry), here (union contracts restrict oversight), etc.
  • Inside the Chicago Police Department’s secret budget of millions a year from seizures and forfeitures [Chicago Reader]
  • Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith about force’s use of dragnet of social media information about citizens: “The only people that have anything to fear about anything being monitored are those that are criminals and attempting to commit criminal acts.” Yes, that’s really what Smith said [Alison Knezevich/Baltimore Sun; in sequel, social media companies rescind access to the Geofeedia service]
  • “It ought to be possible to terminate cops short of criminal convictions for incidents like that involving [Freddie] Gray’s” [Ed Krayewski]

“DEA mines Americans’ travel records to seize millions”

“Federal drug agents regularly mine Americans’ travel information to profile people who might be ferrying money for narcotics traffickers — though they almost never use what they learn to make arrests or build criminal cases. Instead, that targeting has helped the Drug Enforcement Administration seize a small fortune in cash.” [Brad Heath, USA Today/KUSA]

Prosecution roundup

  • Fourth Circuit will review forfeiture case of “pre-conviction, pre-trial restraint of untainted property” [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
  • “Voodoo Science in the Courtroom: The U.S. has relied on flawed forensic-evidence techniques for decades, falsely convicting many” [Alex Kozinski, WSJ; ABA Journal] “Highest court in Massachusetts throws out another shaken-baby syndrome conviction” [Radley Balko on Boston Globe]
  • Federal judge Andrew Hanen gets results! “Justice Department orders more ethics training for lawyers” [Politico, earlier]
  • Like settlement slush funds, contingency-fee prosecutions divert money from the public fisc to influential private players [Margaret (“Peggy”) Little, CEI]
  • California appeals court: Orange County district attorney’s office’s war on a judge was legal but represented “extraordinary abuse” [C.J. Ciaramella]
  • “New Jersey Bill Would Punish Eating, Drinking While Driving” [Reason]

NYPD: accounting for all the cash we seize would crash our servers

“The New York City Police Department takes in millions of dollars in cash each year as evidence, often keeping the money through a procedure called civil forfeiture. But as New York City lawmakers pressed for greater transparency into how much was being seized and from whom, a department official claimed providing that information would be nearly impossible — because querying the 4-year old computer system that tracks evidence and property for the data would ‘lead to system crashes.'” [Sean Gallagher, ArsTechnica]

September 7 roundup

  • Bad Texas law requiring breweries to give away territorial rights for free violates state constitution, judge says [Eric Boehm]
  • California’s identity theft statute bans so many more things than just identity theft [Eugene Volokh]
  • Cato Unbound symposium on Indian Child Welfare Act/ICWA, to which I contributed, wraps up [Timothy Sandefur on sovereignty and fixes] Minnesota’s Indian foster care crisis [Brandon Stahl and MaryJo Webster, Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
  • If you want to hear me translated into Arabic on bathroom and gender issues, here you go [Al-Hurra back in May]
  • Asset forfeiture: “New Mexico Passed a Law Ending Civil Forfeiture. Albuquerque Ignored It, and Now It’s Getting Sued” [C.J. Ciaramella] “IRS Agrees to Withdraw Retaliatory Grand Jury Subpoena Against Connecticut Bakery” [Institute for Justice] “California Asset Forfeiture Reform Heading to Approval” [Scott Shackford]
  • Evergreen: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.” [Adrian Bott]

A Kathleen Kane footnote, on forfeiture

The office of now-convicted Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane kept the existence of a pile of seized money secret for nearly two years: “Not until the state attorney general’s office filed a forfeiture petition for the money [nearly $1.8 million] in Cumberland County Court on June 16, did its existence become public.” [Allentown Morning Call/Philly.com]