Sunday, July 19, 2015

212.1 - Good News: suit attacking civil asset forfeiture proceeds

Good News: suit attacking civil asset forfeiture proceeds.

Let's start with some Good News.

I have in the past talked about the ongoing outrage of what's politely called civil asset forfeiture and more accurately called cops legally stealing your stuff to pad their own budgets. I first brought this up on this show nearly two years ago and most recently just several weeks ago.

I have described and do describe civil asset forfeiture as a corrupted and corruption-ridden outgrowth of the so-called War on Drugs. The process allows police to seize assets - money, cars, businesses, houses, anything - based on nothing more than their claimed belief that those assets either are related to illegal drug activity or were paid for with the proceeds of illegal drug activity. They can do this even if they have no basis for any charges against the person possessing the asset and are not required to prove their claim.

Once an asset is seized, it becomes the responsibility of the person whose property was taken to prove that the asset was not obtained through the drug trade, that is, they have to prove a negative, and have the burden of proof in doing it.

The use of civil asset forfeiture exploded after the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1984, under which proceeds from seizures went to the police departments that made the seizures rather than to the general fund of that jurisdiction, which meant that cops now had a profit motive for seizing property. The result at the federal level was for proceeds from forfeiture going from $27 million in 1985 to $556 million in 1993 to $4.2 billion in 2012.

There seems to be a slowly-rising - too slowly, but rising - sense of outrage about the practice as it has begun to gather more attention, and that is good news.

Our particular bit of good news this week is that US District Judge James Gritzner in Iowa has refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought against two local Iowa cops who seized $100,000 from two men driving through the state on their way home to California.

In April 2013 William Davis and John Newmerzhycky were returning home from a World Series of Poker event. They were pulled over by cops who intimidated and manipulated them in allowing a "voluntary" search of their car. That search turned up the money and a small amount of marijuana, which for the cops was sufficient justification for stealing the cash.

The two ultimately got $90,000 of the money back - and now are suing the two cops to get back some of the money it took to get back what had been stolen from them. As part of it, they are also suing a company called Desert Snow, which advises cops on how to conduct such stops, including advising them to do such things as single out cars with out-of-state license plates under the idea that they are less likely to contest the theft.

That suit is what Judge Gritzner said can continue. This doesn't mean that Davis and Newmerzhycky will win their suit, although I certainly hope they do, but it is another small indication of a shifting of sentiment away from the idea that police can steal your stuff and do it without consequences.

And yeah, that's good news.

Sources cited in links:

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