Wyoming Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Bill, Because Asset Forfeiture 'Is Right'

from the any-and-all-money-prolly-drug-money-or-something dept

With the abuses of asset forfeiture being loudly publicized, there has (finally) been some legislative pushback against these abusive programs. Wyoming’s legislators — hoping to institute asset forfeiture reform — ran into pushback themselves from the state’s governor, who vetoed the popular bill (which passed out of the Senate with an 80-9 vote) when it hit his desk.

Governor Matt Mead explained his reasons for doing so in a letter to the Senate president Phil Nicholas. According to Mead, he didn’t agree that Wyoming has an asset forfeiture problem and saw no reason to curtail a program that is (supposedly) so effective in fighting the Drug War.

Now, while Wyoming hasn’t made splashy headlines with bogus busts, it’s more likely due to the limited population than better laws or better law enforcement. Mead’s letter explaining his veto contains three examples he feels prove Wyoming is better-behaved than most when it comes to separating citizens from their possessions. But none of those are particularly persuasive.

One deals with $17,000 being returned after “procedural safeguards” were ignored. The other two simply assume the seizure of funds was completely justified, even though no corresponding conviction is noted in his explanation.

In one case, a car owner denied knowing whose $327,000 was found in his vehicle. Fully justified, of course, because as Mead explains, the seized funds were spent “to enforce drug laws.” In the other case, $415,000 was found in a vehicle being carried on a semi trailer full of vehicles. This, too, was taken and the seizure fully justified because the money was obviously evil in and of itself. Here’s Mead’s actual sentence explaining what happened to these funds.

“The money was taken out of circulation so it could not be used for other illegal activity.”

Stupid money. It’s like it’s a troubled teen in need of a grounding. “Don’t let it out! It will probably just do illegal things!”

Not cited: the “illegal activity” prompting the seizure of the funds in either case.

The reform bill didn’t ask for much — just a conviction to go with every seizure — but that was still too much for Mead, who still carries inside him the beating heart of a long-term prosecutor. To him, these means are perfectly acceptable because drugs are a problem. Case closed.

That’s likely one of the factors playing into the deployment of his otherwise seldom-used veto power. This is the other: a meeting with the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs — which occurred three days before the veto.

Beyond all that, Mead simply believes asset forfeiture is a law enforcement tool that simply cannot be questioned.

I believe civil asset forfeiture is important and it is right.

Too “right” to be even slightly curtailed by the addition of a small but logical stipulation: a conviction of the assets’ owner before the assets can be claimed. Mead prefers the way it’s been done for years: assets are presumed guilty, the burden of proof rests on those whose assets have been seized and anything not clearly associated with any criminal activity can still be repurposed to fight the Everlasting War on Drugs.

Wyoming may not have a history of forfeiture abuse, but it makes no sense not to head off a problem before it becomes one. Everything about its current program lends itself to abuse.

Wyoming has horrible civil forfeiture laws, with an F law grade. The state’s final grade is pulled up to a C only by limited use of equitable sharing (an evasion grade of A) to date. The government can seize and subsequently forfeit property with just probable cause that it is subject to forfeiture. This is the lowest standard, far easier for the government than proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A property owner who wishes to claim an innocent owner defense bears the burden of proof, effectively making owners guilty until proven innocent. All of the proceeds from civil forfeiture are distributed to the state Attorney General’s asset fund. In turn, those funds are used as matching funds for federal drug enforcement grants. Finally, although officials are required to collect information on the use of forfeiture, they did not respond to requests.

Gov. Mead’s view of this program is rosy to the point of blindness. But that’s the sort of thing we expect from career prosecutors who question very little if anything about the law enforcement under their purview and who wholeheartedly support strong drug enforcement tactics. Mead may not see any abuse occurring, but I get the feeling he’s not looking too hard. Considering how low the bar is set in terms of burden of proof, you’d have to do some serious digging to find seizures not justified by this barely-there requirement. And, considering the funds flow into Mead’s former office, I would imagine he’s in no hurry to find anything that might threaten the state’s revenue stream, or its attendant matching funds grants from the US government.

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Comments on “Wyoming Governor Vetoes Asset Forfeiture Bill, Because Asset Forfeiture 'Is Right'”

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55 Comments
Daydream says:

Let's play with Bayes' Theorem

Let’s make the following assumptions:
1. That on average, 1 in every 25 people in Wyoming possesses ill-gotten gains (that’s a lot!).
2. The police are 100% effective at detecting these crooks; if you do wrong, they WILL find you, and confiscate your illegally-earned cash (hooray for the NSA!).
3. The police have keen eyes, and can easily tell the innocent from the guilty; there’s only about a 1% chance that they’ll mistake someone innocent for a crook and take away their property (aren’t they clever?).

Got that? That’s a test with 100% sensitivity, 99% specificity, and the population it’s testing is 4% crooks.

Under these incredibly-optimal circumstances, the police would still wrongfully seize assets from innocents 19.35% of the time.

Now consider that;
a) The number of criminals in Wyoming (not counting corrupt police officers) is likely far less than 4% of the population.
b) The NSA isn’t good enough to spot every single last one of these crooks for the police of Wyoming.
c) The Wyoming police probably (either accidentally or on purpose) seize assets from innocent people more than 1% of the time.

Statistically speaking, wrongful seizure at some point is pretty much guaranteed. Just sayin’.

PaulT (profile) says:

“In one case, a car owner denied knowing whose $327,000 was found in his vehicle. Fully justified, of course, because as Mead explains, the seized funds were spent “to enforce drug laws.””

So, taking other peoples’ money without permission is OK just as long as it goes to what you consider a good cause? Cool, I’m off to rob a bank, which is perfectly moral and legal because I intend to donate everything I steal to charity /s

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Bad analogy

That is also a bad analogy, you forget he is not talking to you he is talking to people who might re-elect him.

“because the money will be spent to do X”

Where X = anything that the lay person might stand behind:
Fight Terrorists
Fight Drugs
Lock up Pedos
Fund Schools
Save the Children from free range parents

If you robbed a bank and spent it on those things you too could get elected. Everyone loves Robin Hood and when he saves the world from terrorists and pedos the election is in the bag.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your question sounds a lot like the people asking why their taxes need to be raised to pay for entitlement programs… why is one right and the other wrong?

Also this statement.. “Wyoming may not have a history of forfeiture abuse, but it makes no sense not to head off a problem before it becomes one.”

Sounds a lot like the Republicans talking about the Israel and Iran issue don’t it?

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:

Whut? People pay taxes for services, not so the government can sit on their hands while we get screwed by corporations because “caveat emptor” and “take or or leave it is a choice.”

Even the limited skeleton bake-sale-funded government you claim to want would require taxes at some point so your analogy doesn’t hold up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

money is being taken from me for services I don’t use, because they are for a good cause, right?

The analogy holds just fine.

I am not saying we should have no taxes. I am making a point that money taken against the will of the owner for a good cause happens every day and most here don’t seem to mind it… until they do.

I am no republican. I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy in the point trying to be made by this post. I made no references to corporations. This is about government seizing a citizen’s assets. The excuse for the seizure is irrelevant, right? That’s what Tim Cushing is trying to say.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No one said go to war… they said deal with the problem before it’s too late.

But you’re right.. if no one changes the law, someone MIGHT break the law and keeps someone else’s money.

If someone doesn’t deal with Iran, it’s only an entire country and it’s people that MIGHT disappear in a blast from a Nuke.

I can see how the asset forfeiture law, in it’s current form, is so scary to you.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Iran needs to be "dealt with"?

Even if Iran is run by extremists, they’re not stupid extremists. The international community gives an awful lot more latitude to non-nuclear powers (that is, nations without an arsenal of nuclear weapons) than they give to nuclear powers, so it would be really stupid for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

And fortunately, as North Korea demonstrated, they’re hard to get right, even if you have plans and fissile material.

And so long as they’re not a nuclear power it would be really stupid, for anyone, including Israel and the US to use nuclear weapons against them.

So, short of some really wild Tom Clancy / Non-Flemming James-Bond-Franchise scenario that involves some really crazy dudes and some improbable events facilitated by an author, it’s really unlikely that Iran, left to its own devices is going to eat a nuke.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Iran needs to be "dealt with"?

My point stands. Once Iran developed (or acquired) nuclear weapons, their ability to posture and grandstand would cease. Threatening Israel with nuclear fire would be so massively stupid as to have visible gravitic lensing.

Yes, colorful threats and saber-rattling are a part of Arabic and Persian culture, but as I said, the statesmen of Iran, as fanatic or radical as they may present themselves aren’t stupid. They know full well that they either get to posture flamboyantly or be a nuclear power, but not both.

Thanks to the Pakistan-India conflicts, we’ve seen nukes in the hands of radical extremists, as they’ve never had the unilateral security measures that the US and USSR did. And still not one stray nuclear shot has ever been fired. Maybe the prospect of killing 200,000 people with one action, even 200,000 of the enemy, is enough to give a human being sobriety.

I don’t know, but I don’t think for the threat of nuclear power Iran needs to be handled or managed or dealt with. Enough nations already have developed nuclear weapons to eat at the grown-ups table, only to find that the conversation there is much duller.

(Even Saddam Hussein knew to stay out of the nuclear club which is another reason why the pretense for Operation Iraqi Freedom was absurd.)

David says:

"Law enforcement"?

Can we stop the indiscriminate use of terms like “law enforcement”?

But that’s the sort of thing we expect from career prosecutors who question very little if anything about the law enforcement under their purview […]

Asset forfeiture is not law enforcement. If laws were being enforced, there would be a necessary relation to a particular law being broken, namely a criminal conviction. If you can’t prove a law (or even which law) has been broken, taking assets is not enforcing any laws.

It’s like punching someone in the face because he’s probably up to no good.

That’s not law enforcement or a tough stance against crime. It’s at best a tough stance. And not even that since you are backed up by other hoodlums.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: "Law enforcement"?

This.

The original argument for asset forfeiture made sense: that criminals should not be allowed to keep the proceeds from their crimes. However, that’s not what forfeiture’s purpose is anymore. It’s not even the argument that is made anymore. Now, the argument is twofold: revenue generation, and as a way to punish people that the cops think might have committed a crime or that they just don’t like the looks of.

Neither of those are legitimate reasons. The end result is that asset forfeiture is nothing but theft by cop.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "Law enforcement"?

I stand corrected. That said, that particular reasoning is absolutely insane, in that there’s a presumption of guilt built into it which should not be there. If an innocent person is charged, then the seizure means that they can’t defend themselves and increases the odds that they’ll be punished for a crime they didn’t commit.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Overturn the veto

I looked at the article to see if it mentions that, and it had this:

It would take a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to override Mead’s veto. The bill cleared both houses by margins far above that level in this legislative session. The bill had been sponsored by the Joint Interim Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on it last year.

So the odds are good it will get passed over his veto.

Anonymous Coward says:

hows about checking to see what percentage of the ‘confiscations’ went to him. it may throw light on to why this idiot thinks it’s right to have t this sort of bill in law. also obvious is his disinterest in ensuring that things are done correctly and within the law and that no law enforcement officers are using the seizure as a means to better their own bank balances, as has been done elsewhere

RocRizzo (profile) says:

A Travesty

In my career at working for the government, I visit many agencies. I have visited probation, sheriff, jail, and district attorney. They all say that they use these property seizures and restitution funds to better enforce the laws. That’s how come they always get the newest tech toys, without even knowing how to use them, whether or not they connect to our network, and whether or not they would be effective. They do this without consulting the IT department which is supposed to screen ALL IT purchases within the locality.
They don’t use this money to fight crime. Ask the deputy, prosecutor, or probation officer whose daughter uses the “work” laptop to go shopping on e-bay!

Anonymous Coward says:

The reason they want to keep the laws, is most likely due to the legalization of marijuana in the neighboring state of Colorado.

An investigative report by channel 7 news (the abc affiliate in Denver) found “Data from states neighboring Colorado show that there are, in fact, some areas where Colorado drivers are being pulled over at a higher rate.”

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/marijuana/are-colorado-drivers-profiled-for-pot-by-law-enforcement-in-other-states

Mary Ann Ludwig (profile) says:

Asset Forfeiture

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Any questions?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Asset Forfeiture

Here’s the rub. With asset forfeiture, they show probable cause for the seizure – then they stop right there. It’s then just turned around where you have to prove that the probable cause is false to get it back. Probable cause isn’t a very high hurdle to clear.

AricTheRed says:

Finally Asset Forfeiture done RIGHT!!!

“The money was taken out of circulation so it could not be used for other illegal activity.”

– Governor Matt Mead

They must’ve take then big wad of sweaty money and doused it with Bakken crude and burt it in-place.

Or is it perhaps still in circulation? Able to be used for criminal activity?

Peter CM (profile) says:

A legal question pertaining to the Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment states, “[No state shall] deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . .”

So, does “Whoa! Here’s a bunch of cash! We’re taking it! If you want it back, you can hire a lawyer and sue!” meet the requirements of due process? I don’t have the legal acumen of Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy, let alone a Wyoming governor, so I’m having a hard time figuring it out on my own.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: I'm sure that would be a novel approach to your suit.

Amazingly, since they charged the item and not you, your rights may not apply.

I remember in the middle ages we went through a period where we tried animals like people, so if some guy was out in the pasture having his way with a sheep, the sheep would be tried for bestiality along with the man.

But I think it comes down to this: Whoever can dispense with your rights will, and they have more guns than you do. Not very civilized.

Charles Aspinwall (profile) says:

Asset seizure

Wyoming is a sparsely populated state. And a very conservative one. Every native knows nearly every other native, or someone from another native’s family. This governor has the stunted mentality of most former prosecutors, but Wyoming’s people won’t put up with personal invasions. Should the cops seize money from a rancher without a criminal charge, the law will change in a hurry. Wyomingnites will just not put up with that kind of behavior from cops. One wrong seizure from, and good ‘ole Matt will be back shoveling horse stalls. That would be a good thing.

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