Prosecutor On Forfeiture Reforms: Making Us Prosecute Drugs Cases Will Make It Harder To Prosecute Drug Cases

from the catch-22-is-non-fiction dept

I thought I had read the worst defense of civil asset forfeiture when I read a former Michigan police chief’s argument against a conviction requirement being instituted in his state. Former Police Chief Robert Stevenson’s argument was basically this: a conviction requirement makes it too hard for cops to take property from people without proof.

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.

[…]

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.

All this evidence and nothing to do with it, I guess. Like many in the law enforcement field, Stevenson clings to the myth that robbing random people at gunpoint somehow cripples drug cartels. This belief is backed by far less evidence than the long list of stuff Stevenson claims can’t be cobbled into a successful prosecution. We’re more than 40 years deep into a War on Drugs and the only thing that’s changed for the positive is the public’s attitude towards civil asset forfeiture.

Michigan’s legislature is considering adding a conviction requirement for forfeitures under $50,000. Opponents of property rights and due process keep crawling out of the woodwork, offering up increasingly nonsensical defenses of forfeiture. But nothing is stupider than this prosecutor’s objection:

”Since a conviction is now required, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said via email.

REQUIRING PROSECUTORS TO PROSECUTE DRUG DEALERS WILL MAKE IT HARDER TO PROSECUTE DRUG DEALERS.

This kind of reasoning suggests the real problem with closing the deal, prosecution-wise, might be the prosecutor’s arguments.

It doesn’t get worse from there. But it certainly doesn’t get any better. Allowing Worthy to expand on this theory does not bring enlightenment or clarification. It just makes the theory bigger and dumber.

“Often in these cases, witnesses are intimidated to the point that they do not show up for trial, sometimes losing their lives because of the retaliation,” Worthy said. “It is our fear that this will get worse now that drug dealers know that if there are no witnesses, there will be no conviction and they can get their property back.”

How in fuck do you draw the line from “taking cash from some dude cops pulled over” to “witness intimidation?” This is the brilliant legal mind handling prosecutions for Michigan’s largest city. All this says is that forfeiture was never about keeping drugs and drug dealers off the street. It was always about the cash. We know this, but cops and prosecutors will never say it out loud. Worthy’s attempt to portray almost-suspicionless cash seizures as leverage in prosecutions the government NEVER PLANS TO PURSUE is inadvertently transparent.

The only argument that could be worse than Worthy’s defense is the truth: cops and prosecutors prefer taking property because it’s easier and it enriches them personally. But we should expect nothing less (nothing more?) from a prosecutor who once asserted there’s a link between real-life and video game violence, stating “no one” could “convince” her otherwise, no matter what evidence they presented. Seems like evidence and assertions are never in the same place when Worthy’s in charge. I can see why she’s so opposed to doing a job she’s clearly not qualified to perform.

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Comments on “Prosecutor On Forfeiture Reforms: Making Us Prosecute Drugs Cases Will Make It Harder To Prosecute Drug Cases”

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36 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'They're guilty if we say they're guilty. End of discussion.'

“It is our fear that this will get worse now that drug dealers know that if there are no witnesses, there will be no conviction and they can get their property back.”

For a prosecutor, someone who you would think would know and follow the law, she seems to have forgotten a teeny tiny little detail:

Accusation doesn’t equal guilt.

Until they have been proven in a court to have engaged in drug dealing they are merely accused drug dealers, and as such your damn right they deserve to get their property back. If the police/prosecutors can’t be bothered to secure a conviction to ensure that the accused is actually guilty then they have no grounds to steal property from them, as until that point they are still considered innocent, and as such punishing them on mere accusation should be prohibited.

Zgaidin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not that I’m defending civil asset forfeiture or the War on Drugs, but if you begin with the premise that the War on Drugs needs to be fought in the first place, their strategy makes a certain sense. There’s been some legitimate academic research into the structure of drug dealing operations. If we look at them as businesses, the thing they most resemble are fast food chains. Arresting corner boys is like arresting the guy at the register at McDonalds. He’ll be replaced in short order, and there’s a never-ending stream of people to replace him. It doesn’t hurt the McDonalds. Even if you arrest the guy at the top of local distribution, you’ve arrested the local branch manager or at best the regional manager. It stings more than the lowly dealer, but not much. Someone from within gets promoted and business continues. The actual CEO is not only outside your local jurisdiction, he’s outside the US.

However, if you seize a significant amount of their revenue, the local distributors can’t pay their franchise fees back up the chain and may be unable to pay for further supplies. The problem here is two-fold. One, police are never successful at seizing that amount of the money, so instead of crippling the franchise, it’s really just a local business tax. Two, even if they were successful, the corporation would just fire the local branch manager and start a new franchise in the same area.

Of course, none of this changes that civil asset forfeiture is a violation of the Constitution, that the War on Drugs is a fool’s errand, and that undoubtedly a lot of people get swept up and have their property seized that aren’t connected to drug trafficking at all.

Bruce C. says:

The Real Reason

”Since a conviction is now required, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said via email.

REQUIRING PROSECUTORS TO PROSECUTE DRUG DEALERS WILL MAKE IT HARDER TO PROSECUTE DRUG DEALERS.

Responses from anonymous/fictitious sources:

"But, but…. it WILL make it harder to prosecute them. If the funds aren’t seized, the accused can actually afford to hire a competent attorney to defend them. It’s incredibly hard to get a conviction under those circumstances. "

"If we can’t convict them, we at least have to bankrupt them."

Gwiz (profile) says:

Signed Into Law

Michigan’s legislature is considering adding a conviction requirement for forfeitures under $50,000.

Governor Whitmer signed this bill on May 9th. It goes into effect on or about January 1, 2020.

Michiganders beware. Law enforcement will undoubtedly try to pad their budgets for the remainder of this year while they still can.

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/michigan/articles/2019-05-09/whitmer-signs-bills-to-limit-asset-forfeiture-in-drug-cases

ECA (profile) says:

"high level drug dealers,"

Description of above:
A new car every year..
Allot f people alwasy going in and out, and allot of people inside.
It dontn matter if the house is crap, but a Rich person will probably NOT be in a shack..
If they are making that Amount of money, per year or even more.. They generally DONT SELL…THEY SUPPLY.. and they have a Chain of people that they sell to, that Sell to the Customers..

"Often in these cases, witnesses are intimidated", the only intimidation is that NONE of the low ball dealers will ever sell to you Again. You will not be allowed near them.
High ball dealers that sell the REAL good stuff, have enough power to make people disappear, But we are dealing with Allot of money here.Coke, glass, Meth(good stuff) not the Street crap, And a few other things you dont think you need. But if you can make $4000 per month, you might as well Sell to dealers, and MAKE MORE money and take less risk..
At $4000 per month, you will be a target of your customers. IF’ you have a person handing at the end of a Drug crash, needing a BIG HIT, he can push you to give him free drugs, OR goto the cops. you are them in a bad Situation..you dont WANT to be Rich and Dealing with the Customers. you have to much to loose.

Last comment..
The FBI/CIA dont work like that,,
And there is allot of proof of that from the 60-70’s..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

We can look at the stats for stops and arrests to see if they lean a certain way.

No, we really can’t. If 90% of stops/arrests involve people of color and it turns out that 90% of crimes warranting a stop or arrest are committed by people of color then there is no lopsidedness. Without knowing all the facts the discussion is purely conjecture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Lopsided prosecutions

How does one determine rates of things that they do not observe?

There is crime in poor neighborhoods, go figure. Is that rate of crime higher or lower than that of say .. wallstreet? We do not know because we have no data on wallstreet crime as it is "acceptable" and everyone looks the other way.

Anonymous Coward says:

”Since a conviction is now required, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers,”

As if they were ever going after the high level drug dealers …
they still refuse to even investigate Purdue Pharma much less prosecute them and that is just the tip of the iceberg as there are plenty of law ignoring orgs out there who just love them some of that good drug money.

Bribing doctors to over prescribe is malpractice, these clowns pay a lot for their malpractice insurance, or at least they claim to. But why … they never seem to be charged with anything.

Health care in this country is a friggin joke.

Anonymous Coward says:

”Since a conviction is now required, it will make it extremely difficult to prosecute high level drug dealers,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said via email.

OK Mr. Prosecutor… if you need to take their stuff before you can go after them… how many forfeitures have a corresponding post-forfeiture conviction?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

how many forfeitures have a corresponding post-forfeiture criminal charge?

Before even getting to convictions it would be good to find out how many times they even bother to charge the supposed ‘drug dealers’ once they’ve got their money, as if they can’t even be bothered with that then they’ve made clear just how pathetic their cases are, and/or how the only thing they actually care about is the money.

R,og S. says:

Mr. Cushing, there is indeed a link to violent video games and mass shooters, but its not the games themselves:

Intel agencies, and private contractors, speech deplatformers and others contact vulnerable children and adults via the game platforms, and then, endlessly stalk and harass them online and off.

One of those mass shooters, William Atchison, had direct links to speech policing, #Gamergate, the British IC, and even a British MP, who targeted his speech, personally.

So, while the games themselves do not necessarily cause violence, the gamers who deploy militarized psycholigical operations targeting individuals via those platforms do indeed.

http://matthewhopkinsnews.com/?p=5538

John85851 (profile) says:

Give them what they want

If this prosecutor is so sure she’ll get more convictions by stealing, I mean confiscating cash, let them do it… but then all cash seized gets put into a state fund and distributed to all towns equally. Something tells me this prosecutor would quickly drop the idea if her area wasn’t getting all the money.

Though this is still a bad idea since some towns could get into a competition to see who could seize the most money.

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