Former Police Chief Says Conviction Requirement For Forfeitures Makes It Too Hard To Take Cash From People

from the can't-have-us-police-doing-actual-police-work dept

One of the worst defenses of civil asset forfeiture has been penned by retired police chief Robert Stevenson for the Michigan news site, the Bridge. It’s written in response to two things: pending forfeiture reform bills in the state legislature and the Supreme Court’s Timbs decision, which indicated forfeiture may fall on the wrong side of the 8th and 14th Amendments.

Michigan definitely needs to overhaul its forfeiture laws. Law enforcement claims it’s dismantling drug cartels, but a look at the state’s forfeiture stats shows cops are just piling up low ball seizures to create a suitably impressive total. Cash seizures are routinely below $1,000. Vehicle seizures are also popular with Michigan cops, but the average value of vehicles taken from alleged drug dealers also falls below the $1,000 mark.

It’s these tiny seizures — the ones not worth fighting in court — that the state legislature is trying to curb. It’s hoping to implement a conviction requirement for any forfeiture under $50,000. Chief Stevenson says this would let the drug dealers win. But beyond using some florid language to flesh out a tiny parade of horribles, Stevenson cannot actually say why this conviction requirement would harm drug enforcement efforts. He tries. Lord, how he tries. But there’s nothing coherent in his defense of cops taking property from citizens just because.

First, Stevenson argues that cops should be able to take money they feel deeply in their hearts is derived from drug dealing even if it can’t find any evidence linking the person carrying it to a crime.

Law enforcement will be severely handicapped if state lawmakers succumb to the misconception that no forfeiture should take place without a conviction on proceeds under $50,000. It is a dramatic misunderstanding that a conviction can be obtained in all drug cases. Drugs and proceeds are not always discovered together which makes obtaining criminal convictions in certain instances impossible. Linking civil asset forfeiture to a criminal conviction allows drug dealers to continue profiting from dealing death in our communities.

In the eyes of LEOs like Stevenson, cash being carried by people stopped by officers can only be the product of illegal activity. It’s simply inconceivable anyone would carry cash in this day and age, apparently. This isn’t conjecture on my part. Stevenson actually states that people carrying cash are legally obligated to explain its origin to cops.

That part comes in his second argument for forfeiture — one that says even if cops have all the evidence they need to push for a conviction, they still should just be able to take the cash instead.

The $50,000 threshold found in this legislation simply means that drug dealers will transport money in sums of less than $50,000. The scenarios I fear involve finding suspects in a house or a car in possession of $49,000 in cash with no valid explanation.

There are two mind-blowing statements in this paragraph and they’re both worth singling out.

Stevenson says people should have to explain their cash to cops. That’s a really weird statement to make, considering previous forfeiture reform efforts raised the burden of proof for the state, not for the public. The public doesn’t owe law enforcement a “valid explanation” for cash (and other property) it possesses. This is completely the wrong way around and it explains law enforcement’s inherent resistance to conviction requirements. Cops want the cash, but they don’t want to put in the work needed to link seizures to illegal activity. They want the burden of proof to rest most heavily on those whose property has been taken.

Then Stevenson says cops shouldn’t have to pursue convictions to take cash even when they have enough evidence to support a conviction. These sentences resist parsing:

Drugs may not be present, but everything else confirms and indicates drug trafficking, i.e., ledger books, scales, pre-recorded narcotics buy funds and packaging materials. In this particular scenario, as well as a multitude of others, the police and prosecutors could not establish a case to seize anything if Michigan adopts the $50,000 threshold.

The proposed law would just determine which case needs to be established first. If cops have enough to establish a case for prosecution, it can move forward with trying to seize the cash. The only possible way this argument makes sense is if Michigan law enforcement is so inept it can’t cobble together a prosecution using a shitload of evidence. If that’s the case, Michigan law enforcement definitely needs to have convictionless seizures because that’s the only way it’s ever going to take possession of all this “unexplained” cash.

I’m sure Stevenson felt pretty self-righteous (and regular righteous, to be fair) handing this op-ed in. But the lack of logic displayed by his spirited, but incoherent, defense of the state’s long-running “free money for cops” programs made more of case for reform than if he’d simply said nothing at all.

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Comments on “Former Police Chief Says Conviction Requirement For Forfeitures Makes It Too Hard To Take Cash From People”

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84 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Drugs and Money

What will they do as marijuana is legalized and they can’t just steal new cars?

Since marijuana is still technically illegal everywhere (including Washington and Colorado — state law does not trump Federal law), I’m guessing they could still seize cash and cars under the guise of aiding the Federal government and its efforts to reduce drug trafficking.

That One Guy (profile) says:

That's the gorram point you crook

If police could be trusted not to steal anything not nailed down or on fire then laws like this would be less necessary, and the fact that they are at all necessary shows just how corrupt and twisted they’ve become.

If they can’t secure a conviction then they didn’t have a case, and as such they have zero grounds to steal someone’s property, no matter how strong their ‘feelings’ are on it or how ‘sure’ they are that the accused is a drug dealer. The only cases a requirement of conviction would hamper are those that should never have been allowed in the first place, and if that really is a big problem for the police then that just highlights how much they’ve been stealing with no justification beyond ‘I want that’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Here's a thought

Education would be nice, but my favorite target for something like that would be the public defender’s office as a bonus on top of their current funding. Not only would the police not see so much as a cent from what they seize, but the more they grab the more their targets would be able to defend themselves in court.

I suspect between not being able to profit from their theft anymore and knowing that the more they grab the better off their would-be-targets become it would be enough to decimate their desire to steal everything they can.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Re: Here's a thought

Wouldn’t giving it to the public defenders officer act as a perverse incentive? If a person’s cash (or other goods) were seized, and distribution was based on conviction, and they are defended by someone who benefits from losing, then there is a problem.

Assign it to education in some form (universal Pre-K?) and there should be no conflicts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Here's a thought

I’d agree with such a method provided it could be assured that the funds given to education would be in ADDITION to the originally budgeted funds. All too often I see "the money will go towards education" and what actually happens is "We figure that education should get X dollars and this new source provides Y dollars. Therefore we’ll send to education X-Y dollars from the General Fund and thereby have Y extra dollars available in the General Fund."

John Smith says:

Masnick enjoys making it hard for law enforcement to work, because it’s the same logic he tries to apply for piracy. By increasing the standards of guilt he makes it impossible for law enforcement to operate.

The investigations will bear fruit, much to his disappointment and that of the pirate fans here. Ken White won’t be able to save you Aspie asses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Personally, I don’t know if he enjoys it or not, but I’m pretty sure he gets paid to did it. Sometimes you have to wonder who would pay to weaken the police force, weaken copyright, patent and trade secret laws, advocate for an economy dominated by the lowest cost producer, and support censoring of dissenters.

My bet is on the Chinese – they gain with IP theft through copyright and patent, they gain when there is civil unrest in the US, they want to be the lowest cost producer, and God knows they support censoring.

My bet is the Chinese fund this site, directly or indirectly – what do you think?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I dunno, Stephen, do you remember Chelsea Manning? I heard that she can have visitors (in jail) now, and she asked for Mike to come share the stage with her again, as he has done repeatedly in the past. Traitors recognize their own kind, and there is little doubt that TD, like Manning, does everything a traitor to their country always does – break the law, lie about it, blame others for their problems, and paint a icture about how they are the victim. I think this entire script is being promoted by the Chinese, which is why a “trade deal” is taking so long. They are so used to stealing everything they want, and getting sites like this to support the idea that theft of IP is OK, they are just not ready to deal honestly with anyone. Time will tell, I think there is an ongoing investigation going on concern TD, including their source of funds. Can’t hide from the government, at least, not for long! Just ask Manning.

John Smith says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Manning is a tranny Aspie that got whatever pronoun Manning uses’ ass done in by the law, as was destined to be.

You and I, we are kindred souls of truth and light in a cesspool of pirates. Our love made Article 13 happen. The death of Section 230 is next.

Kiss me, you gorgeous fool! We dance upon the corpse of Masnick.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if Manning is a “tranny” or an “Aspie”, by which I assume you mean either “transgender” or “tranvestite” with the former (which is why I really don’t like the term “tranny”; it’s bad enough that it’s clearly meant to be an insult, but it’s not even clear what you’re accusing them of or insulting them for) and “someone with high-functioning autism” with the latter. I don’t know why you believe she is either. However, I also don’t get why it matters.

It has nothing to do with any wrongdoing she supposedly did, and neither that nor anything else we know about Manning’s beliefs has anything to do with civil forfeiture.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

By increasing the standards of guilt he makes it impossible for law enforcement to operate.

Good. If the police cannot work under a system of “innocent until proven guilty” — with all that implies about both police investigations and criminal prosecutions — they do not deserve to work.

The police are legally obligated¹ to respect the civil rights of the people they serve. Any police officer in particular or police department in general that believes violating civil rights to generate money for the police is more than willing to violate yours if push came to “I feared for my life”.

¹ — In theory.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You promote anarchy, yes? You think it is “good” if it is impossible for law enforcement to operate. You understand how insane that sounds to normal people, right? Normal people support law enforcement, respect and admire the police, and do everything in their power to help them in their service, not make their service impossible. Police serve the public, police do not serve the interests of criminals. Are you a criminal? You sound like one. Or are you just an outcast without a society that claims you.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You promote anarchy, yes?

Your rhetorical gimmick will not work on me.

You think it is “good” if it is impossible for law enforcement to operate.

If “operating” includes the violation of civil rights and the seizing of assets without due process? Yes — holding the police accountable for doing those things and making the ability of police to do those things much more difficult is also a good thing.

Normal people support law enforcement, respect and admire the police

“Normal” is a fiction. Everyone is weird. Also: ACAB.

Police serve the public

…which is why the police must be held accountable when they serve themselves at the expense of the public’s civil rights.

police do not serve the interests of criminals

…unless the police are the criminals, in which case, the good ol’ “Blue Wall” will typically protect them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Here at Techdirt, reading a lot of everyday posters’ comments, it seems evident that these law enforcement stories or actualities have turned many cinical against law enforcement in America. Techdirt readers are probably a fairly evenly distributed swath of working America’s views. That is saying something to the indigestion these agencies are causing across the country. That is pretty sad.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only people that said it was impossible for law enforcement to operate, was law enforcement. And the reason they gave was that they could not abide by the premise that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. So, who is promoting anarchy?

The Constitution still exists, even as our courts degrade it. That is reversible.

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Thomas Jefferson

Letting the police act without the protections the Constitution provides is just not acceptable. If their actions are allowed to continue, there probably will be some anarchy. The problem will be, can we get all the anarchists to support the same goal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

I think that most normal people denounce liars and charlatans like MM without hesitation. A lot of people have their knives out for him. His only support seems to come from phoney cheerleaders with tens of thousands of posts with phony names and phony backgrounds, not a legitimate US citizen among them. Who pays him and who does he pay? He will never admit either, because he is a liar and a charlatan.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I used to be one of those "normal" people. I had the utmost respect for cops, didn’t think cops or the system was racist, that only bad people with something to hide would refuse consent to search their car or home. I am a white, middle class female.
But then I witnessed cops being racist to a black man who witnessed a car accident and where the driver ran (leaving the scene). They threatened him for trying to tell them where the driver ran because they were asking me what I saw. I saw the crash, but I didn’t see the driver that ran because I was making a uturn so that I could park to block on coming traffic while helping the accident victims, and to please listen to this man. They said they’d get to that nut job shortly; I saw them rolling their eyes, saying yeah,yeah yeah, now back up so paramedics can work (the ambulance hadn’t even arrived). Before the cops arrived, the gentleman had helped pull the door open so that the mother could reach her daughter under the dash because the car was smoking. The cops questioned me while I held my sweater against the little boys head wound while he laid on the ground. It was disgusting and shocking. I didn’t immediately understand why the cops were so rude to another good Samaritan but nice to me.
And then my prescription medication was stolen, a narcotic that I take for narcolepsy so that I don’t fall asleep behind the wheel, among other hazards. The cops decided only addicts or dealers would report a narcotic medicine stolen, good people would just suffer; but they could be persuaded if I agreed to a polygraph. Long story short, I was coerced into recanting my police report and charged with filing a false report. My hair started coming in gray after the interrogation.
Now I know that I can’t turn to the police if I am a victim, and cops really are a bunch of racist thugs who only care about arrests for rising in the ranks and opportunities to steal from taxpayers to buy toys not in the budget. Your painting them as some kind if heros is pitifully naive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

OK, you’re a narcoleptic patient who claims that someone stole your drugs, and you don’t like the police. I can accept that. You had a bad experience.

99.9% of law abiding people with reasonable health support the police. No, I don’t expect those law abiding people to comment here, so I won’t hold my breath.

This site appears to be dedicated to breaking the law, copying and stealing other people’s property, criticizing the police and advocating socialist and communist ideals. That’s OK. American accepts everybody, and we all have the opportunity to our opinions.

Did you see Obama over the weekend in Berlin? Interesting critique he had of the fanatical fringe of the Democratic Party. Did you witness the whole corrupt Smolllett debacle? Day by day, month by month, we are getting closer to the next election. The tide has already turned, legal normal healthy people still vastly outnumber the fringe mental patients that frequent this web site. The ridiculous agenda promoted here (if you can’t compete with free you can’t compete at all) loses credibility day by day as the economy improves, salaries increase, more people are working and contributing and celebrating American Greatness.

Go ahead and work against American, you will never win. We laugh at you, as our savings increase, our retirement looks brighter and brighter, and our children become educated in the proud history of our country and our society. There was a similar fringe leftist radical movement in the 1960’s, we need one every 50 years or so to remind us why radicals are too stupid and dangerous to be given any power. This will all get set right in the 2020 election where Trump will be empowered with the WHOLE GOVERNMENT to move his historic agenda forward.

MAGA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I’ve heard of shitposting before...

You’re another gay ass fucker like Stephen T. Stone, right? You have so much experience with assholes and shit during sex that you have to write about it all the time. Are you actually Stephen T. Stone? Or are you another gay ass fucker? I vote that you are actually Stephen T. Stone, just posing as an Anonymous Coward. Right, you ass fucking shit obsessed idiot!

dickeyrat says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’d be nice to harmlessly chuckle about this. The problem is, one of two things will occur in 2020: 1) Blump will be elected (not that he was actually "elected" in 2016, in the first place), because much of the American public actually is stupid enough to do that. Or, 2) Blump will take power by force, which could be as "benign" as cancelling the 2020 "election" due to some form of National Emergency. (Wouldn’t it be a hoot if that "emergency" wound up being Russian or Chinese "interference" in the process?) Either way, he will wind up as "president"/"leader"/emperor/dictator-for-life, which will pave the way for the mass use of ovens by 2030–and not for baking bread. He will eventually die and go to hell; at that time the power mantle will pass to his two idiot sons. Now, won’t THAT be a fun regime? Sieg Heil MAGA!

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Normal people support law enforcement, respect and admire the police, and do everything in their power to help them in their service, not make their service impossible.

The 4th amendment makes the job of cops harder. Should ordinary people support a rule making it so that the 4th doesn’t apply to cops? If not, and normal people should support the 4th applying to cops, how is it somehow anti-cop to think that asset forfeiture without a conviction violates the 4th?

Anonymous Coward says:

Fifth admendment anyone?

Why the hell are they trying these cases around the 8th and 14th amendments when the fifth explicitly forbids this nonsense? The state can’t steal of the people, period:

"…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."

Am i living in in the God damn twilight zone?

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Fifth admendment anyone?

This is all explained in the link, but here’s a summary:

The Fourteenth Amendment is necessary for applying the Bill of Rights to states, under the incorporation doctrine. (The Bill of Rights, as originally conceived, applied to the federal government but not the states; the states were allowed to infringe rights that the federal government couldn’t. The Fourteenth Amendment’s "equal protection" and "due process" clauses ended that and have been interpreted to mean that most (not all) of the restrictions placed on the federal government in the Bill of Rights also apply to state governments.) You’d still need the Fourteenth Amendment to invoke the Fifth.

As for why Timbs was decided under the Eighth Amendment and not the Fifth, it’s because Timbs was convicted of a crime; he was not denied due process. The issue was that the value of the vehicle the police seized was wildly disproportionate to the crime he committed. Therefore, the relevant law was the Eighth Amendment’s "excessive fines" clause, not the Fifth Amendment.

It certainly seems like many of the justices on the Supreme Court are interested in ruling CAF unconstitutional on 5A grounds, but they haven’t had a case yet that makes that argument. These things take time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Fifth admendment anyone?

Thank you Thad, that makes sense.

If I win the lottery I will personally make it my mission in life to make this abrogation of law and the constitution go away by supplying bottomless legal funds to anyone who had property stolen from then while not being convicted of a crime to get this madness before the Supreme Court under the Fifth.

There is no way they can legitimately argue their way out of that clear language but if they tie the law in knots and do so anyway, which they probably will, hopefully, it’ll cause a new revolution in this burgeoning banana republic and we can burn this entangled forest of corruption down to well below its roots in the ground and plant anew.

freedomfan (profile) says:

Law enforcement will be severely handicapped if state lawmakers succumb to the misconception that no forfeiture should take place without a conviction on proceeds under $50,000. It is a dramatic misunderstanding that a conviction can be obtained in all drug cases. […]

Actually, the misconceptions and dramatic misunderstandings are the chief’s. There are almost too many to mention in his op-ed. But, the biggest dramatic misconception is that it’s law enforcement’s job to punish people. It isn’t. And, it isn’t anyone in government’s job to punish people without a conviction. Frankly, someone with that attitude shouldn’t be anywhere near a badge. But, the sad truth is that too many people just accept the idea, reflecting the sorry state of civics education in this country as much as anything else.

dickeyrat says:

Cops are nothing but paid bullies, paid much more than the Average Joe to wave their badge around like some kind of phallic extension, and use and abuse whomever they please, knowing that they will face zero consequences. Lord-god Emperor Blump has made it clear that cops are his kind of people, and that he has their backs in any and all situations, no matter how heinous. We can see where this is going: greater and more frequent "forfeitures" (what a term!), and gradually more reliable funding for the ovens that will be built, up and operating by 2030, for disposal of all them pesky brown, black, elderly, disabled and liberal people who only stand in the way of True Patriots. So Sieg Heil MAGA, and Amerika Uber Alles! This is how things fly in a Fascist dictatorship, your orders are to get used to it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Capping Cops' Authority to be As-Criminal-As-They-Want-to-Be

Stevenson is (pick any that apply):

1) delusional about the nature of Amendment 4, 8 and 14;
2) delusional about the nature of police authority;
3) delusional about the degree to which he can fool the public;
4) deeply retarded in his grasp of fundamentals of ethics and morality;
5) a thief, promoting the model police-as-professional-criminals;
6) all of the above.

Go, Michigan State Legislature!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The logic of Techdirt – they have copyrighted materials and patented materials, so I should steal it openly and brazenly, and brag about it and celebrate it while dancing and singing a lunatic song about copying is not theft. Lalalalalala! I’m being paid by the Chinese! Lalalalalala!

bobob says:

A cop’s job is to protect the rights of the people from those who would take away those rights, which in this case, seems to be the cops.

Any cop who believes asset forfeiture without a conviction is needed to combat crime of any sort, should never have been allowed to become a cop for lack of intelligence and an inability to understand what the job really is.

I don’t care if it’s $1.00 or $1,000,000.00+. Once the IRS takes its cut, I own it and have explained it.

jcwconsult (profile) says:

Chief Stevenson seems to think theft from people that may well be innocent is OK. Moral people don’t think that way. Civil forfeiture without a conviction for a related crime is theft. PERIOD!

All the officials involved should be prosecuted for larceny with resulting jail sentences if convicted. This must become the law in every state to end the abusive thefts from those not convicted of crimes.

James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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