71% Of Americans Oppose Civil Asset Forfeiture. Too Bad Their Representatives Don't Care.

from the the-power-of-people,-bottlenecked dept

According to a YouGov/Huffington Post poll, 71% of Americans are opposed to civil asset forfeiture.


Too bad their opinion doesn’t matter. This is part of the problem.


Most Americans haven’t even heard of civil asset forfeiture. This is why the programs have run unchallenged for so many years. An uninformed electorate isn’t a vehicle for change. This issue is still a long way away from critical mass.

Without critical mass, there’s little chance those who profit from it will lose their power over state and federal legislatures. Forfeiture programs are under more scrutiny these days, but attempts to roll back these powers, or introduce conviction requirements, have been met with resistance from law enforcement agencies and police unions — entities whose opinions are generally respected far more than the public’s.

California’s attempt to institute a conviction requirement met with pushback from a unified front of law enforcement groups. Despite nearly unanimous support by legislators, the bill didn’t survive the law enforcement lobby’s last-minute blitz. They also had assistance from the Department of Justice, which pointed out how much money agencies would be giving up by effectively cutting off their connection with federal agencies if the bill was passed.

Meanwhile, Michigan lawmakers have gathered unanimous support of asset forfeiture reform, but are not introducing a conviction requirement. This will make the bill more palatable for law enforcement, as it only raises the bar from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence” that seized property is linked to criminal activity. It would also make it a little easier for citizens to fight for the return of seized property if not charged with any crimes.

A reform bill introduced in Texas died an unceremonious death back in April when the committee chairman refused to move the legislation along until more concessions to law enforcement interests were made. The legislator who introduced the bill refused to budge and the bill was killed off.

Virginia’s attempt to add a conviction requirement was similarly killed off by a legislative committee, despite nearly universal support from other legislators. The Senate Finance Committe claimed the State Crime Commission needed to examine the issue first, which will buy those opposed to reform at least another year to shore up their defenses.

Wyoming’s governor vetoed an asset forfeiture reform bill, claiming the seizure of property without securing convictions was “important” and “right.”

On the bright side, Montana and New Mexico have both enacted forfeiture reform. Montana introduced a conviction requirement and New Mexico went even further, eliminating civil asset forfeiture altogether. (Property can only be seized in criminal cases.)

But as for the rest of the nation, there has been little movement on asset forfeiture reform. Utah — a state that overhauled its forfeiture system 15 years ago — rolled those reforms back just as national scrutiny was increasing. A broader movement for reform seems unlikely when less than a third of the nation is even aware of these programs.

Even if awareness increases, legislators at the top end of the food chain are more interested in appeasing law enforcement agencies and prosecutors than pushing through reform bills that arrive on their desks with nearly unanimous support. Informing the electorate may put better people in office, but it won’t change the mindset that almost always believes law enforcement knows best.

This problem is compounded when the law enforcement lobby starts complaining about the budgetary shortfalls reform efforts will create. If they aren’t allowed to seize anything for any reason, they won’t be able to buy the things they want or offset the costs generated by their seizure efforts. Any state strapped for cash — and that’s most of them — will be hesitant to pick up the tab for “lost” revenue.

It all adds up to little forward motion. The public may be displeased with the status quo, but the status quo has paid off so much for so long, those with the power to motivate politicians won’t be in any hurry to give up their forfeiture programs.

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Comments on “71% Of Americans Oppose Civil Asset Forfeiture. Too Bad Their Representatives Don't Care.”

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41 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is why people need to be fully informed Jurors… but of course… that will not help civil forfeiture… the entire system is designed to steal from citizens without even the simple blessing of due process.

I absolutely would never render a guilty verdict for any citizen that protected their property with deadly force in a case of civil forfeiture!

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Utah — a state that overhauled its forfeiture system 15 years ago — rolled those reforms back just as national scrutiny was increasing.

I’m not surprised. You’d think a bunch of conservative Mormons would have a lot of respect for the idea of “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” but they’ve got some real problems when the person doing the stealing has any sort of legal cover.

For example, my brother lives in Provo, Utah, and apparently over there it’s perfectly legal to steal a car, if you run a towing service. If you call the police and report your car stolen, the first thing they’ll do is ask where it was parked, and if there’s any chance it may have been towed, before opening an investigation they’ll tell you to call the towing services and see if they have your car. If they do, whatever happened is presumed to have been completely legitimate and you’re screwed; even if you didn’t actually park illegally, you have to pay whatever extortion they demand to get your vehicle back and the cops won’t do a thing about it. ISTM that’s barely discernible from straight-up Grand Theft Auto, but apparently they think there’s an important difference there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Words cannot convey the level of loathing I have for these “elected officials” and unions who have blocked civil forfeiture reforms in light of the overwhelming response against it (who are aware of it). It is stealing. It’s not like eminent domain (which is equally disturbing) where a measure of compensation is provided. The property is simply taken regardless of guilt/innocence or even the pretense of due process. That’s inviting a dangerous situation down the road

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Mad idea, I know, but have the authorities involved ever considered holding a public discussion about the budgeting needs of law enforcement and puts on ear protectors in anticipation of the howls of consternation to follow levying enough taxes to pay for it?

These people either need more money or they don’t. If they need more money it’s got to be pulled in. If they can’t rob random strangers on the mere suspicion of involvement in crime, what else can they do?

Anonymous Coward says:

BULLSHIT!!!

Forfeiture programs are under more scrutiny these days, but attempts to roll back these powers, or introduce conviction requirements, have been met with resistance from law enforcement agencies and police unions — entities whose opinions are generally respected far more than the public’s.

Under ABSOLUTELY NO CIRCUMSTANCE should any entity in government be more respected than the Public’s opinion!

They serve US “The People” not the other way around like they foolishly believe. This why the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with blood of tyrants and patriots, because EVERYONE has to be reminded of this lest they forget as we have now!

It is clear that the public is seen as nothing more than peasantry with cities shutting blocks down for visits from people like the pope!

Baron von Robber says:

Re: BULLSHIT!!!

“They serve US “The People” not the other way around like they foolishly believe.”

Well they do serve us…well a special segment. The more $$$ you bribe them with, the more they listen. And with SuperPAC, you don’t even need to be a citizen.

I’m having difficulty distinguishing them and prostitutes. Maybe one group wears more make-up than the other?

Dan Yankey says:

Re: Re: BULLSHIT!!!

The “serve the people” is actually supposed to be “represent the people” which is more nuanced. We want our elected officials to be the best and the brightest among us, to do what is good and right, even if it is unpopular.

What I have trouble understanding is how they get away with doing things that are wrong and unpopular.

Also, can someone explain to me how civil asset forfeiture survives any civil liberties challenge? If there is no crime, it can’t be a punishment. There is no due process, so it can’t be called justice under our system. How is this not robbery at badge point?

Rekrul says:

Most Americans haven’t even heard of civil asset forfeiture.

Or they’re like my friend who doesn’t believe this is happening.

When I tell him stories that I’ve read of CAF cases, he considers them isolated incidents committed by a few rogue cops and that “any good lawyer” can have your property back by the end of the day and will also relish the chance to ream the cops a new one.

He also believes that cops are justified in killing people 99.99% of the time and that the .01% who commit unjustified killings are swiftly dealt with. When I tell him stories of police abuse, he think I’ve scoured the net to find the rare, completely isolated incidents that are the exception rather than the rule.

Of course when he or someone in his family has a less than perfect encounter with the cops, they “had a chip on their shoulder”, but he still believes that’s the rare exception.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Or they’re like my friend who doesn’t believe this is happening.”
The problem with this kind of thing is that it’s just too ridiculous. Who would believe that you can get stopped by a cop and your stuff is gone. Money? Gone! Car? Gone! Cop at your house? House gone!
That’s theft and the thought that the Gov can just steal your stuff is crazy. Ok, it’s real so not really that crazy but it sounds crazy.

Even reading or watching a story about it could seem made up. Or at least a thought like this might come up
“Yeah sure their son bought a “bit” of heroin. He probably was some huge dealer who bought the house that got arrested.”

Although if you can say or even think the part about a house being arrested, without laughing then I think it’s too late.

Anonymous Coward says:

If the legislators can't do it...

How about getting off your seat and going through the process of setting up a binding referendum that is worded appropriately?

The government shall not in any way confiscate money and/or property except as penalties or payment of fines imposed by a judge for a guilty conviction of a felony by the owner.

(I would have added the word “reasonable” before “penalties,” but that opens it up to creative interpretation.)

That’s it. Plain and simple. Removes the “civil” part, and turns the asset forfeiture into part of the verdict handed down by a judge, and only applies to the owner of the money/property. You could also add additional wording to make judicial misbehavior (“Hey! The cops need cash, take it out on those plea bargaining…”) actionable as well.

The idea is to make the wording plain and simple so those that are seeing it for the first time in a voting booth will know exactly what the referendum means. (Of course, you’ll need to get people to start voting, but that’s another issue.)

It also makes it easy to counter the “agencies will lose money!!!” claim, since you can counter that there is a legitimate process for the agencies to take specified in the referendum. “We ain’t removing your money; we’re making sure you’re not taking it from the wrong guys!”

Personanongrata says:

Criminal

71% Of Americans Oppose Civil Asset Forfeiture. Too Bad Their Representatives Don’t Care.

What is the Plain English reading of the two excerpted paragraphs below?

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Either a Plain English reading of the above paragraphs escape the level of reading comprehension present within the US government or the fractions of Americans infesting all levels of US government are criminal.

The so-called serious people in law enforcement want to completely disregard the law (that they have supposedly sworn an oath to protect/defend) for their own personal/bureaucratic expediency at the expense of all other citizens.

AC says:

Repression with representation.

Just think, 230 years ago, our forefathers started a civil war against Britain over *taxation without representation*. I’m not certain the streets could hold all the blood that would be flowing in them, which would result from the likely response of the founding fathers to the governmental malfeasance we see right now.

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