As The Feds Seize Domains, More Attention Paid To How Law Enforcement Regularly Abuses Asset Seizures
from the this-is-not-due-process dept
Ryan Radia pointed us to a detailed report from earlier this year, written by the Institute for Justice, about how the civil asset forfeiture process is regularly abused by police (pdf). And along those lines, Radley Balko has a disturbing story out of Indiana concerning massive abuses of the asset forfeiture process. Basically, law enforcement in Indiana had been abusing the forfeiture rules for their own benefit. As Balko noted in an earlier article, the "forfeiture racket" is basically a "license to steal", as law enforcement can find all sorts of reasons to seize private assets -- even without trying their owners for any crime -- and then profiting off the sale of those items.
In Indiana, the law had been changed so that, officially, any proceeds from forfeiture would go to the state's public schools, rather than directly to law enforcement. However, as Balko reports, Indiana prosecutors have found loopholes, which they regularly exploit to get around the rules:
One popular way Indiana prosecutors have avoided contributing to the school fund is to contract out civil forfeiture cases to private attorneys, who get to keep a quarter to a third of what they win in court. If there are incentive problems with letting police departments and district attorneys' offices keep forfeiture proceeds, those problems are magnified several times by allowing private attorneys to get paid directly from the forfeiture cases they bring on behalf of local governments. Forfeiture experts I've spoken with say the practice almost certainly violates the Constitution's Due Process Clause, since the people making decisions about these cases get a direct financial benefit from those decisions.Note that, in some ways, this mimics what Homeland Security did with the domain name seizures. As we noted, Homeland Security actually contracted out to a private company to handle the domain name seizures. It's not clear, however, if they directly benefit from each seizure but this does seem like a serious question.
Another loophole in the law allows prosecutors to deduct from forfeiture proceeds the law enforcement costs associated with obtaining them. County prosecutors and police departments exploit this provision by wildly exaggerating the costs of their investigations or interpreting the law in ridiculously broad ways. The Star reported, for example, that officials in Marion County "have a broader--and more lucrative--interpretation of law enforcement costs. They argue that the phrase simply means the cost of enforcing the law in Marion County, and thereby justify holding on to every dollar of the nearly $1.6 million the county received from state forfeiture cases in 2009."I'm curious if those supporting the whole forfeiture concept as being "perfectly normal" care to comment on these sorts of things...