Chris Christie Says Asset Forfeiture Transparency Is Bad For Law Enforcement, Vetoes Unanimously-Supported Bill

from the christ,-what-an-asshole dept

Part of the reason asset forfeiture is such a problem is the lack of transparency. The funds obtained through this process are frequently hidden from the public and used to purchase everything from margarita makers to Stingray devices. The procedure through which the government takes control of citizens' assets is also shrouded in secrecy. Cases are filed against property, not the persons formerly in possession of them. The process for retrieval is purposely impenetrable, designed to make it almost impossible for petitioners to reclaim their assets.

Law enforcement officials claim that all parts of this opaque process are there to prevent drug dealing and/or terrorism, hence their reluctance to divulge the inner details of this particular mean/method. Legislators in New Jersey were hoping to end this unofficial tradition with a bill that would have demanded far more transparency from agencies involved in asset forfeiture.

S2267 passed with unanimous support in both houses of the State legislature and would have instituted the following information be submitted to the state Attorney General's office every year.

[I]nformation on the seizure of the property, including a description of the seized property; the date of seizure ; the market value of the seized property; the alleged criminal offense associated with the seizure; a description of the location at which the property was seized, including whether the property was seized from a private residence or business or during a traffic stop; if the property was seized during a traffic stop, the name of the highway, street, or road on which the property was seized and whether the vehicle was traveling northbound, southbound, eastbound or westbound;

   (2)   the disposition of any criminal action related to the seizure;

   (3)   information on forfeiture of the seized property, including:

   (a)   whether the forfeiture involved prima facie contraband or was enforced by civil action pursuant to N.J.S.2C:64-1 et seq., the forfeiture was a result of racketeering activity pursuant to N.J.S.2C:41-1 et seq., or the forfeited funds or property were obtained from an action involving financial facilitation of a crime pursuant to P.L.1994, c.121 (C.2C:21-23 et seq.); and

   (b)   whether a person with a property interest in the seized property was represented by counsel at the forfeiture proceeding, if applicable;

   (4)   information on the final disposition of the seized property, including whether the property was returned to the owner, destroyed, sold after forfeiture, or retained after forfeiture; and the date of disposition;

   (5)   information on the value of 1the1 forfeited property, including the gross amount received from 1the1 forfeiture, the total expenses deducted as part of the forfeiture action, and the net amount received from the forfeiture;

   (6)   whether the forfeiture resulted from an adoptive seizure; and

   (7)   any other information the Attorney General requires.

This information would have provided the public with valuable insight into state law enforcement's use of asset forfeiture. And there are several reasons law enforcement wouldn't want to have to turn over these details. The dirty secret of asset forfeiture is that it's not being used to take down the biggest and baddest criminals. It's far more frequently used to nickle-and-dime average citizens, with a majority of an agency's take being made up of seizures valued at well below $10,000. Vehicles are seized from grandmothers because their grandchildren drove drunk. Any cash on anyone who smells like marijuana to a police officer usually ends up being forfeited even if the person is free to go.

These details would have made the state's asset forfeiture programs looks exactly as bad as they are. New Jersey holds a D rating from the Institute for Justice, which performs annual reviews of states' forfeiture programs, rating them for damage done to citizens' rights and property. One of the aspects of forfeiture that aided in the state's D rating is the lack of transparency and almost-nonexistent reporting requirements.

County prosecutors across the state collected $72 million in forfeiture proceeds from 2009 to 2013, including more than $57 million in cash and vehicles worth $9 million, according to the report.

In addition, the report found county agencies received an average of $7 million a year from federal "equitable sharing" programs that give state and local agencies a cut when they serve on federal task forces.

But the millions tallied by the institute "are a vast undercount for what's going on in New Jersey," according to Dick Carpenter, the group's director of strategic research and one of the authors of the report.

Carpenter said it's difficult to get the whole picture in New Jersey because while the state does collect some data, it was not able to provide the group with comprehensive figures for local and state law enforcement agencies.

"The transparency in New Jersey is pretty poor," he said. "The ability for average folks -- or even elected officials -- to know what's going on in their state or municipality just isn't there."

None of this matters now, at least not for the foreseeable future. Governor Chris Christie has decided the public isn't on the "need to know" list as far as asset forfeiture is concerned.

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a bill that would have required county and state prosecutors to publish information about how they use civil courts to seize property from criminal investigations.

In order to fend off any attempts at a veto override, Christie has proposed his own law enforcement-friendly "fixes" to the rejected legislation.

Christie instead recommended a quarterly report in which prosecutors identify seized assets and detail the legal proceedings by which they were seized.

Under Christie's proposal, prosecutors also would not have to disclose why they seized an asset or for what purpose it would be used.

Christie's "compromise" does nothing. Quarterly reports are already filed with the attorney general, but they're withheld from the public. The details included are minimal and provide no useful insight into law enforcement's forfeiture activities. And it's not as though the AG's office goes after agencies for incomplete or nonexistent reporting. There appears to be no consequences for agencies that fail to comply with these minimal reporting requirements.

Of course, Christie's "compromise" is predicated on a ridiculous pretense.

The governor said his proposed changes would "strike a balance between government transparency and protecting law enforcement operations and personnel."

Protect law enforcement from what exactly? Transparency? Accountability? Criticism? There's nothing in the information the bill demanded that would make it anything more dangerous for law enforcement. It might inform the public where law enforcement likes to go diving for dollars, but the only negative thing likely to happen to law enforcement is an increase in informed criticism.

In Christie's mouth, the words "government transparency" are meaningless -- as meaningless in his buzzword jumbling, bootlicking excuse for kicking the legislature's unanimously-supported bill to the curb.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 7:46am

    Gotta love those checks and balances

    Unanimous support in both houses of the state legislature, and the governor kills it off with a shug and a "Nope."

    Assuming they can override the veto by simply voting again and getting enough supporting votes the second time around(shouldn't be that difficult if the first vote is any indicator) I certainly hope they do so and tell him to stuff his attempt to hide the rampant theft by the police via laughably obvious 'fixes' back in the void that may have once housed his sense of responsibility to represent the best interests of those that voted him into office.

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

    • icon
      TimK (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 9:50am

      Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

      Agreed. Why exactly does his veto block this becoming law for the "foreseeable future"? If it was passed unanimously, why wouldn't the legislature simply vote to override the veto?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 9:53am

        Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

        Yep! Any reason the legislature can't just vote to override the veto? Why would they have to consider the "compromise" Christie proposed?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 12:07pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

          Because he has the power of veto over all bills, and can wield it to get his way.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 6:12pm

          Re: Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

          Anytime a bill with veto-proof majorities passed both houses and was then vetoed by the governor, by magic, some of those Republican votes changed.

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 14 Feb 2017 @ 8:07am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

            Bait and switch perhaps?

            Vote in favor of something you know will be vetoed, then when it's shut down you present the 'compromise' that you actually were in favor for originally, allowing you to get what you wanted and lament that you really wanted more but were 'gracious' enough to settle for less?

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Feb 2017 @ 6:12pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

              My guess is they know they'd be screwed if they voted against it - fortunately they have the governor's veto so they can say "Hey we tried!" and the spineless defectors say "They didn't want to go against the governor.".

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

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 7:22pm

        Re: Re: Gotta love those checks and balances

        Yeah, just did a quick check of NJ law and any veto can be overridden by a simple 2/3 vote in both houses. If it was unanimous, it should be easy to override.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 9:23am

    Authoritarianism

    Isn't obfuscation one of the principles of a police state? If it was only Christie making such moves, we could claim New Jersey was on its way to being a police state, but there are Federal forces at work here too. The police state will be every state, if we let it happen.

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

    • identicon
      Andy, 13 Feb 2017 @ 5:50pm

      Re: Authoritarianism

      Oh come on seriously, most states have this law or hide its use more effectively, America is a country of corruption and bribery, it is just not called that as it is the law,

      At least in third world countries you pay bribes, in America they just take everything you own.

      Remember the case where for weeks the police kept returning to the old woman's farm and just taking whatever they wanted on her farm or in her house, including her tv and radio and heaters and water pump..well just about anything the police wanted for themselves, and yes it was different police officers every time just going to see what they could steal from the poor farmers. That was in America not Russia.

      I have a lot of family living in America , luckily in the north where it is slightly better, but even they have stated that if they are ever travelling they will not have any money with them and if they have cards they will have two accounts, as i suggested, a savings account and a primary account, the primary account will never have more than a few dollars in it for emergencies , about $50 - $100. Just in case police take them to a machine to check there balance and force them to withdraw funds.

      They have said that if it gets any worse they will move north or south as many Americans are doing right now.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 9:29am

    When you try to hide it that much, I wonder what it is being used for. Maybe the money is used to pad people's wallets.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 10:06am

    In Christie's Defense:

    If he's ever going to get a federal cabinet position, he needs to establish his kleptocracy street-cred.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 10:06am

    Not a surprise From the guy who brought us

    Nice bridge you've got there. It'd be a shame if anything happened to it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 10:15am

    Go figure, the man who deliberately shut down a lane of traffic on the George Washington Bridge, so he could punish a politician by creating traffic jams around Fort Lee, doesn't want transparency.

    Next up, swimmer discovers water is wet.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 10:25am

      Re:

      Where is so obvious, a person like Christie would not be in power.

      Therefore, water is actually NOT wet... or shall we say... many people have not discovered this yet. The people deserve to know that this was all cock blocked by a single person so they know where to NOT ship their votes next time.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 10:53am

    It is all illegally obtained

    Since it is all illegal, we will eventually get to see all of the details of how it was spent, abused and who it was stolen from. Everyone involved from the top to the bottom will be filling the empty prisons for the rest of their lives.

    Prosecuting government corruption publicly will be the highlight of the next administration.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 11:59am

      Re: It is all illegally obtained

      At least someone is unreasonably optimistic.

      History shows, that the newcomer just takes advantage of the corruption that the oldleaver left behind.

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 13 Feb 2017 @ 1:56pm

    Confucius Says: Wisdom is to Call Things Their Proper Names*

    Chris Christie Says Asset Forfeiture Transparency Is Bad For Law Enforcement, Vetoes Unanimously-Supported Bill

    It would be very helpful in advancing the debate about unjust takings by the government to dispense with the euphemism of Asset Forfeiture and call the dastardly criminal action by it's true name: larceny.

    It matters not if the perpetrators are wearing masks or government issued costumes. Larceny is larceny.

    Do not allow those operating within government to hide their criminal acts behind the weasel words of Asset Forfeiture.

    Demand accountability.

    Highlighted text below was excerpted from Quora.com:

    * Jason Chen, wisdom is power

    Written 10 Oct 2015

    It is originated from Confucius's work Analects, but it is rather a liberal translation, the original Chinese is as follows:

    "君子于其所不知,盖阙如也。名不正则言不顺,言不顺则事不成 事不成则礼乐不兴,礼乐不兴则刑罚不中,刑罚不中则民无所措手足。故 子名之必可言也,言之必可行也。君子于其言,无所苟而已矣。"

    and the more accurate translation is:

    "A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."

    https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-source-of-the-Chinese-saying-the-beginning-of-wis dom-is-to-call-things-their-proper-names

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 2:08pm

      Re: Confucius Says: Wisdom is to Call Things Their Proper Names*

      Smashing post... a lesson that cannot be learned at TD unfortunately.

      The moment you run into someone that disagrees with you, then you are nothing more than a...

      bigot
      racist
      homophobe
      xenophobe
      troll
      thinskin
      extremist

      We don't like using the appropriate words around here!

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

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: Confucius Says: Wisdom is to Call Things Their Proper Names*

        Spot the person whose alt-right mythology keeps getting countered with facts and citations.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Feb 2017 @ 2:25pm

    The best way is to ban all asset forfeiture unless a person has been convicted of a crime. Both ideas presented by New Jersey are horrible. Police should not be able to seize anything unless they arrest the person for a felony.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 13 Feb 2017 @ 6:35pm

      Re:

      Robbery-at-badgepoint could be all but demolished overnight with two simple changes:

      1) Require a conviction of the property owner before any assets are taken.

      2) Any assets seized and the resulting funds are donated, in their entirety, to the office of the public defense.

      In two steps you raise the bar to the absolute minimum it should be for someone to have their stuff taken, and completely remove the incentive for police and government agencies to steal anything that catches their eye, because the last thing they want is for people accused of breaking the law to be able to defend themselves in court, rather than being forced into plea deals.

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

  • identicon
    My_Name_Here, 13 Feb 2017 @ 5:38pm

    Keep up the good news, Techdirt. This is delicious.

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

  • identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 13 Feb 2017 @ 6:22pm

    Must be nice ...

    ... To not have to obey laws or suffer consequences for breaking laws imposed on everyone else.

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

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 14 Feb 2017 @ 3:09am

    “And these are your reasons, my lord?"
    "Do you think I have others?" said Lord Vetinari. "My motives, as ever, are entirely transparent."
    Hughnon reflected that 'entirely transparent' meant either that you could see right through them or that you couldn't see them at all.”
    ― Terry Pratchett, The Truth

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

  • icon
    John David Galt (profile), 15 Feb 2017 @ 4:02pm

    At least we can be fairly sure the leg will override.

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

  • icon
    freedomfan (profile), 16 Feb 2017 @ 12:19am

    The veto non-overriders were never supporters

    The legislators who truly support the bill needs to be saying right now is that anyone who doesn't vote to override the veto was never really interested in reform. The non-overriders were just looking for cover because this government activity is so obviously heinous to the public.

    Don't let them have that cover. Don't let them imply that they were willing to do take a step in the right direction when all they were really willing to do was glance in the right direction and then walk away.

    Make it clear that not voting to push the bill past the veto is the same as never having voted to pass it in the first place. The question is not, "Did you vote for the bill?" it's "Did you support the bill after the veto?"

    This notion that they need to find a compromise is BS. Efforts to fix something utterly unjustifiable require no compromise with efforts to keep the unjustifiable in place.

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


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