Rep. Issa Calls Out Civil Asset Forfeiture As Letting 'Cops Go Treasure Hunting'

from the time-to-end-it dept

We’ve been writing an awful lot about civil asset forfeiture over the past few years, and how it’s basically a program that lets law enforcement steal money (and goods) from people and businesses without ever charging them with a crime. Instead, they just charge the thing with being part of a crime and then keep the proceeds. Just recently, the federal government reopened its asset forfeiture “sharing” program that basically makes it even more lucrative for police to just take people’s money and things. Most people don’t even realize this is happening, but when they find out the details, they are almost all opposed to the program, that looks like little more than supporting legalized theft for law enforcement, with basically no recourse. In that last link, we noted that most lawmakers don’t seem to care about this issue at all, perhaps because of the fear of being branded as “anti-cop” or something silly like that.

Thankfully, it appears that some lawmakers are finally starting to speak out. Rep. Darrell Issa, who is rarely shy about stating his opinion, has written an absolutely fantastic attack on civil asset forfeiture in the LA Times.

Civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize property as long as they believe that the assets in question were somehow connected to criminal activity.

?As long as they believe? ? that’s the key part.

Authorities don’t have to actually prove the person was guilty of a crime. They don’t have to even file charges. The presumption of innocence is thrown to the wayside.

It’s an egregious violation of the 4th Amendment, but that’s not even the most glaring problem with the system.

Under current law, most states allow police departments to absorb up to 100% of the value of the confiscated property ? whether it’s cash, cars, houses or guns ? and use the proceeds to pad their budgets. It’s an obvious conflict of interest ? and boy, is it profitable for law enforcement agencies.

He points out an insane statistic: In 2014 “police officers took more property from American citizens under civil asset forfeiture ($5 billion) than criminals took in burglaries ($3.5 billion).” Think about that for a second. Issa admits that there’s some “nuance” in those stats (in terms of what they include and don’t include) but it’s still pretty clear that law enforcement is taking an awful lot of things (and money) away from people with basically no due process at all.

Issa notes that some states have started to pass rules that limit asset forfeiture (including requiring an actual conviction against a person and limiting how much money can be kept), but law enforcement supporters have been hitting back hard against any such legislation. And, with the DOJ reopening its “equitable sharing” program, many local law enforcement agencies are just shifting their asset forfeiture efforts to the federal program, rather than the state program:

It should come as no surprise that in states that have implemented caps and limits, law enforcement simply relies on the federal program instead.

In 2015, the Drug Policy Alliance found that whereas revenue collected under California’s forfeiture laws had remained constant over the previous 10 years, revenue under the federal program had more than tripled.

Issa notes that it’s time for legislation at the federal level to change things:

As more and more states reconsider their civil forfeiture systems, the federal government needs to set a framework for smart reform. That starts with closing the equitable-sharing loophole, and requiring police to satisfy a higher burden of proof to a judge before seizing property under federal law.

It is difficult to come up with a reasonable argument why the basic reforms mentioned here shouldn’t be allowed. Requiring a conviction seems like a due process necessity. But, you can expect that there will be angry pushback from law enforcement groups that have been funding operations through all of this stolen money for a long time.

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Comments on “Rep. Issa Calls Out Civil Asset Forfeiture As Letting 'Cops Go Treasure Hunting'”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

It's really not that difficult

Ignoring for the moment that the massive conflict of interest should mean that any property/cash seized should go into a general fund(might I suggest education?), not the pockets of those making the seizures/thefts…

If you want to take someone’s stuff, then charge them with a crime, get a conviction for it, and demonstrate a significant link between the crime and the property in question.

The only way this is a problem is if:

A) You don’t have enough evidence to charge them.
B) You don’t have enough evidence to convict them.
C) There is no link between the crime and the property.

Given that the only real objection to requiring a conviction before stealing someone’s property is if you know that the majority of the time you don’t have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, and therefore the property, which is not exactly a very ‘good’ objection to put it mildly.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: It's really not that difficult

Ignoring for the moment that the massive conflict of interest should mean that any property/cash seized should go into a general fund(might I suggest education?), not the pockets of those making the seizures/thefts…

There is only one tiny flaw in this. Lottery funds (at least in California) and many of the bonds for education were promised for Education, but the legislators just paid less to education instead since they were already covered by the lottery and by bonds. I suspect this would go the same way…legislators would allow the funds to go to education, but then would shift funds that would have gone to education back to law enforcement or other pet projects. The conflict of interest would still exist, but would be shifted to make it even less transparent to the voter / victim.

I agree with everything else though…

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's really not that difficult

@ ltlwolf-
same in florida, with their pitchmen/politicians selling the lottery: ‘oh noes, we absolutely, positively, will not nebber ebber cut education funding by just the amount the education system rakes in from the lottery, we wouldn’t do that; this is all EXTRY monies, to put the cherry on top of our education system, blah blah blah…’
yeah, care to guess the outcome ? ? ?
lying psychopaths, the lot of them…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

So long as this is a revenue source

The police are going to fight its regulation with every fiber of their being, even at the cost of lives as necessary.

Kinda like corporations, really.

In history, all inquisitions and witchhunts really get going once assets seized become a recognized revenue train. Confessions extracted by torture from everyone!

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, imagine, we even have the right not to be spied upon by the USA. Yes, funny enough, the NSA spying on foreigners is of course a violation of the 4th amendment, unless “…upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Wholesale surveillance neither qualifies for “probable cause”, nor for “particularly”.

WTF? Over says:

US Constitution Is Not Just a G.D. Piece of Paper

These policies LE are following have been written by those who have usurped America’s government. They are going underground when the shit hits the fan. Its just a matter of keeping the forces happy who will defend them then. Throwing them these bones keep LE motivated to keep the drug war alive. It also helps to fund their efforts, saving the federal government a few bucks at the same time.

The last thing they are concerned with now is the treason they are committing against the citizen’s of the greatest country there ever was.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: US Constitution Is Not Just a G.D. Piece of Paper

The problem with tyranny is that it can turn a really great country into a really terrible one fast.

When it comes to protection of personal liberties and benefits, I think Denmark and Sweden have been ahead of us by a head and neck for decades now.

But when it’s a general policy of state departments to warn against visiting your country, that’s a pretty strong sign that the greatness of your nation has gone stale.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Can't tell if this is Poe.

I’m not sure if you’re really Whatever sticking to your pro-authoritarian rhetoric or are some Whatever-shaped satirist mimicking his pro-authoritarian rhetoric.

The police have a good reason to take your assets whenever they can, specifically, they get to keep them.

When the Holy Inquisition got to seize the property of whatever Jews, heretics and witches they uncovered, they found them everywhere they looked.

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