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.