Cato’s Caleb Brown talks with attorney J. Cabou about the legal fight over Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture law, which authorizes “one-way” fees to be made available to prevailing law enforcement, but not to prevailing citizens. Note, by the way, that the (very real) due process objections to one-way fee-shifting are in many ways equally applicable to one-way fee-shift provisions found in numerous other areas of law, including discrimination and environmental statutes.
- One Oklahoma official used asset forfeiture to pay back his student loans, another lived rent-free in a confiscated house [Robby Soave, Reason]
- Per ACLU, Arizona has a one-way legal fee rule in forfeiture cases, with prevailing police allowed to collect from property owner but not vice versa [Jacob Sullum]
- From Michael Greve, some thoughts on prosecution for profit and where money from public fines should go [Liberty and Law]
- About the Benjamins: Philadelphia mayor-to-be cites revenue as reason to let parking officers ticket sidewalk users [Ed Krayewski, Reason]
- Captive market: with wardens’ and sheriffs’ connivance, prison phone companies squeeze hapless families [Eric Markowitz, IB Times]
- Former red light camera CEO pleads guilty to bribery, fraud in Ohio [Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica]
- Taxpayers lose as Maine counties jail indigents over unpaid fines [Portland Press-Herald]
- “St. Louis County towns continue to treat residents like ATMs” [Radley Balko]
The video is now up of the Right On Crime panel on civil asset forfeiture at which I joined Grover Norquist, Jason Pye and moderator John Malcolm. It was followed by a second panel with Derek Cohen, Robert Frommer, Evan Armstrong, and forfeiture victim Joseph Rivers. Further discussion here at Right on Crime, earlier on the panel; our forfeiture tag.
- How does your state rank on asset forfeiture laws? [Michael Greibok, FreedomWorks via Scott Shackford] Maryland delegate alleges that vetoed bill “would have made it easier for criminals to get their forfeited property back,” seemingly unaware that it focused on rights of owners *not* found guilty of anything [Haven Shoemaker, Carroll County Times] Arizona counties said to have nearly free rein in spending money [Arizona Republic via Coyote]
- I took part last week in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. on civil asset forfeiture, sponsored by Right on Crime, and it went very well I thought [Sarah Gompper, FreedomWorks]
- “Nail Salon Owner Sues For Return Of Life Savings Seized By DEA Agents At Airport” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt] And: “A federal judge has just ordered the government to return $167,000 it took from a man passing through Nevada on his way to visit his girlfriend in California.” [Cushing]
- “How Philadelphia seizes millions in ‘pocket change’ from some of the city’s poorest residents” [Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post “Wonkblog”]
- IRS drops structuring forfeiture case against N.C. convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan, will return more than $107,000 it seized [Institute for Justice]
- Canada, too, has civil forfeiture when there has been no criminal conviction [British Columbia Civil Liberties Association]
- Michigan testimony: “After they breached the door at gunpoint with masks, they proceeded to take every belonging in my house” [Jacob Sullum]
- Town of Richland, Mississippi, population 7,000, builds $4.1 million police headquarters with forfeiture money. Thanks, passing motorists! [Steve Wilson, Mississippi Watchdog via Radley Balko]
- Alan Dershowitz, Harvard lawprof, suing TD Garden over slip and fall in bathroom three years back [Boston Globe]
- “Harsh Sanction Proposed For Attorney Who Blogged About Probate Case” [Mike Frisch, Legal Profession Blog]
- Maryland veto sets back reform: “Governor Hogan, Civil Asset Forfeiture Is Inherently Abusive” [Adam Bates, Cato]
- “‘Vape’ bans have little to do with public health” [Jacob Grier, Oregonian in February]
- Academics prosper through expert witness work, part one zillion [Ira Stoll]
- Sounds good: call for civil procedure reform includes fact-based pleading, strict discovery limits, case-specific rules, and more [Jordy Singer, Prawfs, on recommendations from American College of Trial Lawyers Task Force on Discovery and Civil Justice and Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System]
- Draft plan would arm FTC with vast power over data practices [James C. Cooper, Morning Consult, via @geoffmanne]
After crooks sell bogus insurance coverage to credulous Michigan auto owners, cops swoop down and seize/forfeit victims’ cars for having been operated without insurance. Crooks and cops, stronger together! [Juan Thompson, The Intercept]
Also on forfeiture: if you’re in the D.C. area mark your calendar for June 26 when I will be appearing at a Right on Crime panel discussion of the subject in downtown D.C. along with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks, with John Malcolm of Heritage moderating. You can register and see more details here.
“A lawsuit challenging the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s use of state civil-forfeiture laws will proceed in federal court after a judge rejected calls from city lawyers to throw it out….Of the four plaintiffs seeking class-action status, three had their houses threatened after relatives were accused of dealing drugs on their properties. None of them have been accused of involvement in a crime.” Under a procedure called “seize and seal,” the city grabs real estate before owners have had a hearing in court. [Philadelphia Inquirer] “The fourth plaintiff’s car was seized after his arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia.”
Joline Gutierrez Krueger at the Albuquerque Journal with the tale of the $16,000 in cash that “Joseph Rivers said he had saved and relatives had given him to launch his dream in Hollywood … seized during his trip out West not by thieves but by Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a stop at the Amtrak train station in Albuquerque. An incident some might argue is still theft, just with the government’s blessing.” The government hasn’t charged Rivers with anything and, under the rules of civil asset forfeiture, doesn’t have to:
“We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” [Albuquerque DEA agent Sean] Waite said. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”
Meanwhile, despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s promise to stop seizing bank accounts in future in cases where violations of laws against bank deposit “structuring” (keeping them under the $10,000 reporting threshold) are not connected with any underlying crime, it continues to hold on to money already in the seizure pipeline. That includes the $107,000 grabbed from Lyndon McLellan, who runs L&M Convenience Mart in rural North Carolina, according to the New York Times. “You work for something for 13, 14 years, and they take it in 13, 14 minutes.” More about the case from Jacob Sullum and Adam Bates.
A prosecutor wrote menacingly to McLellan’s lawyer about the publicity the case had been getting:
“Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it,” Mr. West wrote. “But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency.” He concluded with a settlement offer in which the government would keep half the money.
In other forfeiture news, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the dangers of forfeiture laws (there to defend the laws: Fraternal Order of Police national president Chuck Canterbury, seen in this space just a few days ago defending police officers “bill of rights” laws) And the Maryland legislature has sent a forfeiture reform bill to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan [Maryland Reporter]
- Lucrative: Los Angeles writes $197 tickets for entering a crosswalk with “Don’t Walk” blinking [L.A. Times, more]
- Forfeiture reform bill in Tennessee legislature stalls after “a key committee heard from family members who are in law enforcement and who do not want to give up a source of income.” [WTVF (auto-plays ad) via Balko]
- As protagonists got deeper into trouble, they kept making bad decisions: Heather Mac Donald has a dissenting take on Alice Goffman’s much-noted book “On the Run” [City Journal, more favorable Tyler Cowen review previously linked]
- In Georgia: “Probation Firm Holds Poor For ‘Ransom,’ Suit Charges” [NBC News, Thomasville, Ga., Times-Enterprise]
- Police and fire jobs are dangerous by ordinary measure but involve less risk of fatality on job than trucker (2-3x risk), construction, taxi, groundskeeper, sanitation [New York Times]
- Police think tank finds St. Louis County ticketing culture “dysfunctional and unsustainable” [Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo] John Oliver on snowballing effect of petty municipal fines and fees [YouTube] NYC is writing fewer summonses for teenagers these days [Brian Doherty]
- “Subtle hand movements,” whispering, being nervous, changes in breathing: list of six “invisible” signs someone is resisting an officer [Grant Stern, Photography Is Not a Crime response to Joel Shults, PoliceOne]
This is welcome news from the U.S. Department of Justice, and rather than try to rewrite I’ll just quote at length what my Cato colleague Adam Bates wrote:
[On March 31] Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines to federal prosecutors tightening the rules for seizing assets for so-called “structuring” offenses.
Under the Bank Secrecy Act, structuring occurs when someone is suspected of arranging their financial transactions as to avoid triggering a report to the federal government by the financial institution. Some of civil asset forfeiture’s most egregious abuses are the result of federal prosecutors utilizing this nebulous statute to empty the bank accounts of unwitting citizens and small businesses who are never charged with any crime or even aware that their transactions are considered illegal.
The new rules require:
1. That structuring seizures against people for whom there is no criminal charge be based upon probable cause that the funds were either generated by unlawful activity or intended for use in anticipated unlawful activity. Alternatively, prosecutors must procure a warrant from a court and with the approval of either the U.S. Attorney (for Assistant U.S. Attorneys) or the Chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) (for Criminal Division trial attorneys).
2. That when the prosecutor determines subsequent to a structuring seizure that the government lacks the necessary evidence to succeed at either a civil or criminal trial, the seizing agency must return the full amount.
3. That when a prosecutor seizes property pursuant to suspicion of structuring, the prosecutor must file either a criminal indictment or a civil complaint, or receive an exception from either a U.S. Attorney or Chief of AFMLS within 150 days or else return the seized assets.
4. That all settlements must be complete and in writing. Informal settlements are expressly prohibited.
I’ve been writing about the outrages of these structuring cases for years, especially the feds’ ambush of Randy and Karen Sowers’s successful Middletown, Md. dairy farm and ice cream maker, South Mountain Creamery. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Rachel Weiner tells how the Sowers’ story “gave civil forfeiture reformers a powerful symbol”, especially after the Institute for Justice got involved. I’m quoted:
“The South Mountain case happened to be one of these that captured the imagination,” said Walter Olson, a blogger for the libertarian Cato Institute who has written about the Sowers case. “Once you’ve bought ice cream for your kids from one of their little trucks, the name sticks in your memory.”