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.

Filed Under: asset forfeiture, drugs, kym worthy, legalized theft, michigan, prosecution, wayne county


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:06pm

    '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.

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

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:13pm

      Accusation doesn't equal guilt.

      Tell that to whoever wrote the DMCA.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:14pm

        Re:

        As I've noted numerous times in the past copyright causes brain damage, and that legal atrocity is certainly one of the prime examples of that.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:41pm

          Re: Re:

          Plus two other sources of brain damage - making money off of it and making their job easier by not having to you know put in the effort.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:41pm

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

      I thought the idea was NOT to give it back, but NOT to take it in the First place, BECAUSE, they are not convicted... Not guilty in the First place.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:36pm

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

      she seems to have forgotten a teeny tiny little detail: Accusation doesn't equal guilt.

      ...unless you have more than $50,000, evidently.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 12:24pm

    I haven't heard of a high-level drug lord prosecution or other interdiction (of the sort asset forfeiture was supposedly designed around) in decades. These people are full of shit.

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

    • icon
      Zgaidin (profile), 25 May 2019 @ 5:30am

      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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2019 @ 5:09pm

        Re: Re:

        "if you begin with the premise that the War on Drugs needs to be fought in the first place,"

        The war on drugs was and still is a money making mechanism for controlling the populace while providing cover for racism.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 12:35pm

    We don't need no stink'ng "due process" we are the federalizes. We will take all your stuff because we can.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 12:41pm

    Yes, obviously drug dealers will resort to murdering witnesses and risking the murder charge so that they can reclaim their < $50k from the state with less trouble.

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

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 24 May 2019 @ 12:44pm

    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."

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

  • icon
    Gwiz (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:55pm

    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-lim it-asset-forfeiture-in-drug-cases

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 12:56pm

    "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..

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:10pm

    Lopsided prosecutions

    Let us not forget that people of color are stopped and arrested far more than any other group of people making these kinds of cases mostly against black or Hispanic males. Racism in 2019 via the "Law".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 2:48pm

      Re: Lopsided prosecutions

      Unless we know the rates of actual criminal behavior for "people of color" and for "any other group of people" we can't say the stop and arrest stats are lopsided.

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

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 3:21pm

        We can look at the stats for stops and arrests to see if they lean a certain way. The “rates of … criminal behavior” are of no concern.

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

        • identicon
          Digitari, 25 May 2019 @ 5:56pm

          Re: please explain

          I am white, and I drive a car everyday, I have driven a car for 45 years and have gotten one ticket, because I do not speed that makes me racist by your metric.

          please enlighten me why I am racisit for obeying the law.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2019 @ 5:56pm

          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.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2019 @ 4:56am

        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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:38pm

    ”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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2019 @ 6:10pm

      Re:

      the Taliban made a deal with the UN to end opium production, by 2001 it was 1% of what Afganastan is growing now. US troops protect the poppies, happy memorial Day. see General of the Marine Corp, Smidle Buttler

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:40pm

    Why do cops rob?

    When Willey Sutton was asked by reporter Mitch Ohnstad why he robbed banks. According to Ohnstad, he replied, "Because that's where the money is"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Sutton

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 1:52pm

    ”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?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 24 May 2019 @ 4:33pm

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 8:10pm

    Did anyone take a blood sample after Kym Worthy made those statements?
    I'd be curious to know about any lab results.

    Sounds like Kym might even volantarily testify, agaist themselves (which doesn't violate the 5th).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2019 @ 11:43pm

    This logic and explanation is on par with John Herrick Smith's excuse for why copyright terms last the author's lifespan plus at least 70 years: "It reduces incentive to kill the author".

    At least John Smith isn't in charge of jack shit.

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

  • identicon
    R,og S., 26 May 2019 @ 10:35pm

    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

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

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 28 May 2019 @ 10:24am

    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.

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


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