Asset Forfeiture: Killing Criminal Organizations With $16 Seizures

from the imperceptible-wounds dept

When asset forfeiture is pitched to Americans, law enforcement agencies roll up to press conferences with shiny, new seized vehicles and large stacks of cash. This public preening is meant to assure everyone that forfeiture kills drug cartels and cripples large criminal organizations. But the day-to-day reality is much different. Pathetic, even. Here's Eric Boehm of Reason on Utah's yearly forfeiture roundup:

Utah police seized more than $1.4 million in cash during 2016 and federal law enforcement agencies operating in Utah took another $1.3 million in assets from people suspected of crimes, a new report shows.

Sounds impressive until you start digging into how that $2.7 million was amassed. It wasn't a few large seizures with definite ties to criminal activity. It was a bunch of petty, nickel-and-dime seizures where the amounts taken could easily have earned by the property's owners through completely legal means.

Most forfeitures (69 percent) take place during traffic stops and most of the time only money is seized. According to the state report, cash was taken in 99 percent of forfeitures during 2016, with the median seizure amounting to only $1,031.

The paperwork alone for the following seizure easily surpassed the value of the property seized. And that's just in terms of office supplies. Add on the labor involved and what is even the point.

That means, in many cases, the amount seized was considerably less than four-figures. In one instance, the report shows, police took $16 from a motorist.

So much for the "don't drive around with large amounts of cash" solution. To avoid being robbed by opportunistic law enforcement, the mantra needs to be shortened to "don't drive." Or simplified to "don't leave the house."

Utah's smallball seizures aren't an aberration. Before the Washington DC Metropolitan PD was hit with minor forfeiture reforms, it also believed no amount of cash was too small to be seized. It racked up nearly $3 million in seizures slowly and steadily from citizens who went on to sue the department.

Altogether, the nearly 1,400 claimants in the class action lost almost $700,000 to forfeiture, so the settlement will restore roughly three-quarters of what was taken from them. Yet the claimants represent just 14 percent of those affected by this particular D.C. forfeiture policy. Over a six-year period, the Metropolitan Police Department seized a staggering $2.9 million from these owners collectively.

Among the owners represented in the lawsuit, the median amount of cash seized was a mere $120. In fact, the MPD seized as little as $1 from some owners. There is little indication trivial amounts of money can be plausibly tied to the drug trade, noted Sean Day, who was co-counsel on the class action.

These low dollar amounts discourage owners from seeking the return of their property. In some places, the fee just to file a motion for return is higher than the amount taken. Even the median seizure in Utah (~$1,000) is easily dwarfed by filing fees and the costs of legal representation. It would be ludicrous to believe officers aren't aware of these facts when they seize cash.

It's hard to see how civil asset forfeiture benefits society. It doesn't take criminals off the street because criminal charges are rarely filed. It doesn't put criminal cartels out of business because the few hundred dollars lifted off random people likely isn't directly tied to these organizations -- and if it is, the hit is so small an organization won't feel it.

Law enforcement agencies fight reform by claiming it will harm taxpayers if the agencies are forced to rely solely on general funds (something with actual oversight) to pay officer overtime and purchase equipment. But the alternative is even worse: agencies and officials are arguing it's OK to tax certain citizens the amount of cash they happen to have on them when interacting with police officers. It's a preposterous argument that says law enforcement agencies not only shouldn't be expected to play by the same public funding rules as every other agency, but will actually be unable to perform their basic functions without a second stream of income.


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  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:45am

    sad

    How sad is your life if you're using your position as a police officer to rob people of $16?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:53am

    This public preening is meant to assure everyone that forfeiture kills drug cartels and cripples large criminal organizations.

    Actually, much like a legitimate business, all this really does is increase expenses, and ultimately cost of goods sold.

    Unlike a legitimate business, drugs users are physically addicted to the product, and the final price has little bearing on how much they're willing to consume. You could quite rightfully argue that in the end more petty crime and violence will occur as a result.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:58am

    Asset Forfeiture:

    A means for the police to punish those that they take a dislike to, and that is why they like it, and wish to keep it in place without any obstructions to their administration of instance justice, like due process, or even real evidence of a crime.

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:40am

      Re:

      Yeah, how many of the small amount were taken because the driver "mouthed off" to the officer writing him a ticket for rolling through a stop sign, or going 4 MPH over the speed limit? The smaller amounts almost certainly represent officers "punishing" a person for "contempt of cop".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:59am

    I hope these police departments seize a bunch of counterfeit cash and then try to spend it as legit money. Once they've declared it "theirs" I want to watch them try to dance out of those charges.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:07am

    Asset Forfeiture

    The new name for an old maxim. In order for us to protect you, we need to take your liberties.

    In this case, we need you to give up your 4th and 5th amendment liberties. Law enforcement now reserves the right to search and permanently seize your life or property despite the Constitution clearly proscribing the same.

    We have made government so that it may take your life and property with little resistance. Be not surprised when they darken your doorstep or end your existence.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:08am

    Cops unable to get Judges to sign off on warrants to search couches randomly for small change, find a policy they can use to turn citizens over, shake, & collect anything that falls to the ground on the basis of... it MIGHT be bad peoples money.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:11am

    Asset Forfeture is Legalized Armed Robbery

    That's all that really needs said.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Asset Forfeture is Legalized Armed Robbery

      That would be taxes. If you don't pay them, someone with a gun actually shows up.

      Asset Forfeiture is unconstitutional and therefor illegal. The fact that you called it legal is the root problem for how we got here. Since you do not recognize the Constitution, they have no reason to either.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:21am

    Armed robbery

    A robber who points a gun at a person over just $16 probably shouldn't get the death penalty. Hanging is too severe for a $16 crime.

    Unless the robber kills the person they're robbing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:29am

      Re: Armed robbery

      What about the terror of being robbed by su pposed law enforcement. It just proves how corrupt these usurpers of government are.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:40am

        Re: Re: Armed robbery

        What about the terror of being robbed …?

        Can't be too much more terrifying than the robber who told me he was going to shoot me for a six-pack of cheap beer. Ballantine Ale, as a matter of fact.

        Otoh, I didn't get shot in the alley that night, either. That was years ago.

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

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:45am

          Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

          You expect a mugger on the street to rob you of minor amounts. You don't expect LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS to act exactly the same.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:54am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

            You expect a mugger on the street to rob you of minor amounts.

            Man, I didn't give up the six-pack that night, neither.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:03pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

            "You expect a mugger on the street to rob you of minor amounts. You don't expect LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS to act exactly the same."

            I do now.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:21pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

              I do now.

              Yeah. But you still shouldn't hang someone over a $16 robbery. Even at gunpoint.

              'Course I guess Utah uses a firing squad these days, anyhow. But the principle's the same.

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:27pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

                When life is threatened then the amount of damage the theft causes is irrelevant. The attacker has made it clear that they value $16 over the life of a being.

                If a person threatens another person's life over property, then the initiator forfeits their life. Being kind to a person that cruel and allowing them to continue to exist is being cruel to the kind people that have to endure these types of people.

                Life is only sacred for those that respect it!

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 2:39pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Armed robbery

            Actually, at this point I do.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 2:42pm

      Re: Armed robbery

      Hanging or some other form of execution? Probably not. Jail time in the 'months or years' category? Absolutely.

      Police should be held to a higher standard, not lower, and if they're using their position to engage in systemic armed robbery then they deserve to be punished harshly for it.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 2:56pm

        Re: Re: Armed robbery

        Jail time in the 'months or years' category?

        With a firearm, robbery is a rather serious felony: Over a year.

        I don't think it ough to be knocked down to just a few months. That would just be a misdemeanor assault or larceny.

        At least one year.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:04pm

        Re: Re: Armed robbery

        Hanging or some other form of execution?

        Utah has a relatively low proportion of colored folks, yes? That is, Utah's not Mississippi, nor Alabama.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:27am

    Utah, another state to avoid

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

  • identicon
    Jason, 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:38am

    If amounts as low as $1 are being seized, how long until not having any cash on you at all will be considered "evidence" of criminal activity?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 12:11pm

    if i ever find myself in utah (ha) and get pulled over, i'm going to drop a nickel on the sidewalk just to watch the cops try to confiscate it before it can roll into the sewer drain.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 12:36pm

      Re:

      That's destruction of evidence right there. If you don't want to spend a few years in jail you'd better make sure it's in pristine condition and in my pocket in the next five minutes. -the cops (probably)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 12:49pm

    "Law enforcement agencies fight reform by claiming it will harm taxpayers if the agencies are forced to rely solely on general funds (something with actual oversight) to pay officer overtime and purchase equipment"

    Their true motivation for robbing the public - ensure they have enough $$ to rob more people.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:05pm

    What has America become?

    Seriously.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:29pm

    People used to keep $20/$100 bills next to their driver's license for traffic stops

    Now, it's completely legal, so long as the cop declares it to his/her dept.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 2:56pm

    'Our pay and toys are more important than your rights'

    Law enforcement agencies fight reform by claiming it will harm taxpayers if the agencies are forced to rely solely on general funds (something with actual oversight) to pay officer overtime and purchase equipment.

    If the department(s) don't have enough funds to pay for operating expenses then the proper action is to go to the local/state government, present the case as to why the budget needs an increase and the evidence based justifications for that, and get the money that way.

    "We'll just rob the public to make up the difference" is not the proper course of action for a budget shortfall, and demonstrates a horrific mindset(especially who it's coming from) where the 'well-being' of the police are placed well above the public or even the laws.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:24pm

    Law enforcement agencies fight reform by claiming it will harm taxpayers if the agencies are forced to rely solely on general funds (something with actual oversight) to pay officer overtime and purchase equipment.

    And the people being harmed by asset seizures are also taxpayers, but with the police deciding which groups in society will be harmed by their seizing of assets..

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:34pm

    Our Heroes

    Asset Forfeiture: Killing Criminal Organizations With $16 Seizures

    Preying upon some of societies most vulnerable persons and stealing their meager possessions is a crime. It makes no difference how the perpetrator is attired - government costume or not.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:53pm

    the mantra needs to be shortened to "don't drive." Or simplified to "don't leave the house."

    That won't work either, because then they'll smash in your door at 3am on a no-knock warrant because they don't like your preferred brand of tea. (Hail Lipton!)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 4:00pm

    They are flushing American citizens down the shitter by allowing themselves to be brainwashed by those policies put in place by treason all for a paycheck. (.)

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

  • identicon
    tin-foil-hat, 31 Jul 2017 @ 5:44pm

    It's Scary

    It's scary that so many people have convinced themselves this is OK. They truly believe that there's nothing unethical about what they're doing. There have been behavioral studies showing how easily someone can be convinced to do something morally wrong. It may not be genocide but civil forfeiture, planting evidence and other forms of corruption are ethically wrong but what can be done in this situation?

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

  • identicon
    tin-foil-hat, 31 Jul 2017 @ 5:52pm

    It's Utah

    I also want to point out that Utah has the squarest, most moral population. A 3rd party presidential candidate got 25% of the vote during the presidential election because they didn't want to vote for Trump and they are very conservative.

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

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:58pm

    It could be worth challenging

    I don't know what the actual filing fees are, but if you can afford it and they aren't too large (like $100 or something), then it would be worth it to challenge small seizures (the $1, $16, even a a few hundred) pro se to save on lawyer fees.

    The point is to make it cost way more for the police to have seized the money than they are making from the seizure, not to win your money back.

    The cost of the DA's, having to have the police officer or officers in court for a day as witnesses, and so on. Drive up the costs to the police as much as you can, call the police officers supervisors as witnesses over the record of the officer. Even if the judge doesn't let you call such a witness, that'll be a motion that probably requires separate hearing to determine decide, which requires the DA's to be there.

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

  • identicon
    David, 1 Aug 2017 @ 12:46am

    You are looking at this wrong:

    It doesn't put criminal cartels out of business because the few hundred dollars lifted off random people likely isn't directly tied to these organizations.

    Now it is.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 12:11pm

    Sooner or later

    It's only a matter of time until someone attempts to defend themselves during one of these incidences of highway robbery, and someone is going to get killed. Maybe that will supply the impetus to change this outrageously behavior, but I really doubt it.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 12:18pm

    Law enforcement: getting rid of criminals, 2 BigMac combos at a time.

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

  • identicon
    Justme, 1 Aug 2017 @ 11:01pm

    Missing Data...

    The number we need to know is how many of the seizures were from people eventually convicted of a crime and how many were law enforcement taking property from people who were never convicted of any crime?

    After all it is in a court of law that the determination of guilt is decided by a jury/judge, not by law enforcement. And i believe the bill of rights has a few things to say about seizure of property.

    We don't let cop's collect the fine when you get a traffic ticket, but if you say the magic word(drugs) then go ahead and empty their wallet.

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


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