State Prosecutor Says Forfeiture Reform Is 'Legislators Funding Drug Dealers'

from the can't-see-the-forest-for-the-stupid dept

As asset forfeiture's popularity continues to decline in the eyes of the public and certain legislators (but not in the eyes of its beneficiaries), arguments against reform efforts are becoming more desperate and strained. Hartford County state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly has been granted a pile of pixels at the Baltimore Sun to defend the "right" of Maryland's law enforcement agencies to take money from people without charging them, much less convicting them.

In his skewed representation of asset forfeiture, those pushing reform efforts are "funding drug dealers" by asking for a higher standard of proof to be met before funds can be seized. His post suggests the proposed law would turn law enforcement agencies into customer service reps for the lousiest retail company ever, rather than simply prevent police from taking money without meeting the slightly higher bar of a "preponderance of evidence."

State lawmakers, concerned that street level drug dealers will be unable to replace the heroin, crack cocaine and other poisons that the police seize when they arrest the dealers, will likely vote on the first day of the session on a bill requiring the police to return up to $300 to the dealers.

As absurd as that sentence sounds during the current epidemic of heroin deaths and overdoses, that is exactly what a vote to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of Senate Bill 528 changes to the state's forfeiture laws will do.
Cassilly follows up his "epidemic of deaths" salvo with a brief description of how street-level drug dealing works (nobody carries much cash on them at any given time -- the same could be said about convenience stores) and an even briefer summation of the Drug War to this point (drugs are bad, especially crack, which resulted in all sorts of "useful" legislation -- like mandatory minimum sentences and free reign to seize assets).

The government attorney suggests there's a better way to handle this: allow cops to take whatever they want and perform their own "review" as to whether or not the seizure was proper.
To answer concerns for those who might be wrongfully arrested for drug dealing, police and prosecutors have crafted new legislation to create an administrative review process to allow for a review of the seizing officer's decision and return of the property. The legislature should be willing to work with law enforcement on a commonsense compromise.
For one thing, arrests are hardly a key element of these seizures. Agencies want the assets, not the arrests. An arrest may occur while funds are being seized, but for most law enforcement agencies, the focus is on securing the seized assets, not sustaining criminal charges.

For another, an "administrative review" would be just another process where assets are treated as guilty until proven innocent and those whose assets are seized aren't allowed to adversarily contest the seizure. So, this "compromise" would change nothing. An administrative review -- especially one crafted by "police and prosecutors" -- would need little more than an officer's "information and belief" that funds, etc. were linked to illegal activity to claim the seizure was justified.

Cassilly also deliberately misreads the legislation's closure of the "equitable sharing" loophole. Many law enforcement agencies bring the feds in to "assist" with large seizures to route around restrictive local laws that forbid them from directly benefitting from asset forfeiture. Cassilly says this would somehow forbid Maryland agencies from partnering with other state or federal agencies.
The second portion of the vetoed bill deals with restricting Maryland's police from acting on information received from other state or federal law enforcement agencies to intercept drug money. So if DEA agents in New York or New Jersey alert Maryland troopers to intercept a car carrying $250,000 in drug proceeds, or if North Carolina police give Maryland troopers a description of some buyers with $50,000 to buy heroin and cocaine, this new law would prevent those Maryland troopers from seizing the money and turning over the money to federal authorities. Although the United States Attorney General has strict procedures for when these proceeds can be turned over to the Feds, this absurd law would require Maryland law enforcement to return the money to the drug dealers; fortunately it does not require the police to apologize.
But none of that is true. Maryland law enforcement can still partner with other agencies or pursue tips sent their way. They just won't be able to use equitable sharing to grab a share of any seized funds. If agencies are truly interested in law enforcement, the removal of the "free money" carrot should have no effect on their willingness to bust suspected drug traffickers. But Cassilly's basically admitting state agencies won't be interested in helping out if they can't expect a payoff at the end of the partnership.

Cassilly's disingenuous defense of abusive law enforcement actions is nothing new. Five years ago, he steadfastly defended local law enforcement for not only arresting a person for filming a police officer during a traffic stop but raiding his house to find evidence of other "illegal" recordings.
Joseph Cassilly is the Harford County, Maryland state’s attorney. He’s currently pursuing felony charges against Anthony Graber, who was arrested last April for recording a police officer during a traffic stop. Maryland is one of 12 states that require all parties to a conversation to give consent before the conversation can legally be recorded. But like nine of those 12 states, Maryland also requires that for the recording to be illegal, the offended party must have had an expectation that the conversation would be private. To bring charges against Graber, Cassilly would not only need to believe that on-duty police officers have privacy rights, but in the Graber case in particular, that a cop who had drawn his gun and was yelling at a motorist on the side of a busy highway would, also, have good reason to believe the entire encounter was private. This seems all the more absurd given that motorists in such a situation clearly don’t have any reasonable privacy expectation. Anything they say during such a traffic stop is admissible in court.

"The officer having his gun drawn or being on a public roadway has nothing to do with it," Cassilly says. "Neither does the fact that what Mr. Graber said during the stop could be used in court. That’s not the test. The test is whether police officers can expect some of the conversations they have while on the job to remain private and not be recorded and replayed for the world to hear."
This is what happened following the arrest, presumably with the approval of Cassilly.
According to an interview Graber gave to photography activist Carlos Miller days after posting the video of his encounter with Trooper Uhler to the web, six officers from the Maryland State Police raided Graber's parents' home at 6:45 in the morning on April 14. Graber and his family were held for 90 minutes while the cops rummaged through their belongings. Graber was then charged with felony eavesdropping and spent 26 hours in jail.
The end result? Charges were dropped. A statement was issued by the state Attorney General reminding law enforcement that traffic stops don't have an inherent expectation of privacy -- not even for cops. And, finally, the court noted, while throwing out the charges, that the state's wiretap law was unconstitutional.

Cassilly apparently has little concern for residents' rights or civil liberties and will always be on hand to defend nearly any dubious law enforcement activity. His attempt to portray asset forfeiture reform as "legislators funding drug dealers" is a cheap ploy meant to sucker in people stupid enough to fall for his smear efforts. Unfortunately, it appears the state's governor is more aligned with Cassilly's twisted view of the issue. If a veto override is successful, it will further demonstrate the widening gulf between law enforcement and the public they're supposed to serve.


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:13pm

    Like the famous saying...

    Take a page from Johnnie Cochran: "If you want my sh*t, you must convict."

    How hard is that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:19pm

    Like the saying goes

    There is no man so blind as he who shall not see.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 8:20pm

      Re: Like the saying goes

      Oh he can see just fine, the problem is the only thing he's looking at is all the free money he might no longer be able to steal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:33pm

    This forfeiture without a conviction raises two points. One is the state wants the penalties without the bother of the costs of court to determine if something should be taken from the accused. In other words in fact they are no longer accused but determined guilty on the spot. This makes a mockery of the law and this in part is what has people believing our entire government system is corrupt.

    The second point is that no politician wants to be seen as raising taxes on the locals. It's bad publicity during an election year and of course, many of the higher office holders of prosecutors use this office as a stepping stone into being a politician. So ending this forfeiture program ends policing for profit where you are the beneficiary of a reverse lotto. One in which random chance will land you in the position of having your money or property taken at gun point if you resist. Most folks call this robbery, whether done by a criminal or by LEO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 3:32pm

      Re:

      They are also profiting directly from drugs if you think about it that way as well. They now fear that their funds will be deemed illegal and the drug dealers will come out the winners in this make believe numbers scenario.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 8:27pm

        Re: Re:

        And what about the other vice busts? Wouldn't that technically mean that the officers are guilty of living off of the proceeds of prostitution?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2016 @ 2:34pm

      Re:

      US Citizens are guaranteed due process by law. Those who shouldn't get it are illegal aliens, invaders and enemy combatants. Add to that list, politicians who have been found guilty of corruption, unconconscienable acts against the public at large or treason, terrorists and child molestors, murderers and drug dealers who have been convicted of selling drugs to underage children. Those people should not deserve due process.

      That makes more sense, doesn't it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 19 Jan 2016 @ 2:53pm

        Re: Re:

        Add to that list, politicians who have been found guilty of corruption, unconconscienable acts against the public at large or treason, terrorists and child molestors, murderers and drug dealers who have been convicted of selling drugs to underage children. Those people should not deserve due process.

        That makes more sense, doesn't it?


        No... you aren't being serious, are you? Sarcasm doesn't always come across well in writing.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dood Monkey, 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:43pm

    I wonder

    I wonder what other analogies we could up with!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 2:55pm

    "In his skewed representation of asset forfeiture, those pushing reform efforts are "funding drug dealers" by asking for a higher standard of proof to be met before funds can be seized."

    It's a wonder that he didn't include the "you must be a supporter of copyright theft or terrorism if you are pushing for reform" line. I guess that could be his next response if the funding of drug dealers excuse doesn't go down well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 3:07pm

    Signs and Symptoms

    State lawmakers, concerned that street level drug dealers will be unable to replace the heroin, crack cocaine and other poisons that the police seize when they arrest the dealers, will likely vote on the first day of the session on a bill requiring the police to return up to $300 to the dealers.
    Let's diagnose that sentence against the signs and symptoms of drug abuse at drugabuse.com:
    Drug abuse negatively affects a person's behavior and habits as he or she becomes more dependent on the drug. [There may be signs of dependency here. Keep going.] The drug itself can alter the brain's ability to focus and form coherent thoughts, depending on the substance. [The first sentence of the editorial definitely is incoherent. Anything else?]

    Changes in behavior, such as the following, can indicate a problem with drug abuse:

    Increased aggression. [He does seem angry.]
    Lethargy. [He wrote an editorial, so there's that.]
    Depression. [He sounds like he will be unhappy.]
    Sudden changes in a social network. [He wrote an editorial, so there's that.]
    Dramatic changes in habits and/or priorities. [Who needs "protect and serve" when you have "search and seize"?]
    Financial problems. [Ah. Now we're getting somewhere.]
    Involvement in criminal activity. [Just because it's legal doesn't make it right.]
    Asset forfeiture: the gateway drug for government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 18 Jan 2016 @ 2:46am

      Re: Signs and Symptoms

      [He wrote an editorial, so there's that.]

      Hmmm.. Do we have a pattern here? We've seen some pretty cracked editorials commented here...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 15 Jan 2016 @ 3:32pm

    "reign" vs "rein"

    and free reign to seize assets

    That should be "free rein". As in allowing a horse to run as it wants, rather than freeing the king.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 4:40pm

    Better by far to fund the state sanctioned criminals than the unsanctioned ones in his eyes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2016 @ 7:27pm

    Isn't there already an 'Administrative Review Process'?

    aka courts, judges, and Due Process?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DigDug, 15 Jan 2016 @ 9:15pm

    Exactly the opposite...

    The legislature, in disallowing the theft of non-drug-related money is actually removing funds from the Drug Dealing DEA agents and local authorities.

    It's also making it so that we'll be able to arrest these badged criminals when they try to do it after it's been made illegal.

    Oh the fun we'll have tracking them down, arresting them and throwing away the keys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jan 2016 @ 3:49am

    "should be willing to work with law enforcement on a commonsense compromise"

    As soon as you get some commonsense let us know, otherwise talking with you is like telling a dog to stop scooting his ass across the living room rug.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 16 Jan 2016 @ 10:21am

    Let's Face It...

    "His post suggests the proposed law would turn law enforcement agencies into customer service reps for the lousiest retail company ever..."

    That would never happen. We all know Comcast has no real competition....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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