Posts Tagged ‘forfeiture’

An Oklahoma forfeiture story

Oklahoma is known as one of the more abusive states in the practice of civil asset forfeiture. In this astounding case, Muskogee County cops stopped a car for a broken tail light and questioned Burmese refugee Eh Wah, who was carrying $53,000 in cash following a charitable fundraising tour of 19 concerts given by the Christian rock band whose finances he managed. The county declared that it was seizing the money on suspicion that he must have been mixed up in the drug trade to have so much loose cash, even though no drugs were found, because a dog had alerted. After Dan Alban and others at the libertarian civil liberties law firm Institute For Justice raised a ruckus, with help from the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham, the local D.A. dropped the charges and returned the money to Mr. Wah. [Corie Stephens, Rare; Tulsa World (auto-plays)]

Crime and punishment roundup

  • Judges generally aren’t supposed to jail defendants over petty fines and fees they’re unable to pay, but many do anyway. How one Texas judge resists [Ed Spillane, Washington Post]
  • Maryland legislature passes amended version of asset forfeiture bill I spoke favorably of at Annapolis press event in January [Tenth Amendment Center, background]
  • Child services hair-sample forensics: “This Canadian Lab Spent 20 Years Ruining Lives” [Tess Owen, Vice]
  • Cato’s 1995 Handbook for Congress urged repeal of Clinton crime bill, but Congress didn’t listen [Tim Lynch, Newsweek and more]
  • “The main thing going through my head was, ‘I’m never going to get a job again.’” Public shaming as punishment [Suzy Khimm, The New Republic]
  • Judge Alex Kozinski publicly names prosecutors in Washington state he thinks may have violated a defendant’s rights [Matt Ferner, HuffPo]

“Bad News: The Justice Dept. Has Restarted Its Program to Share Seized Property with Police”

Cheers went up from several quarters, including this one, in December and January when the Department of Justice pulled back on its “equitable sharing” forfeiture program, which provides state law enforcement a backdoor way to profit from asset forfeiture to a greater extent than their own state laws would let them do. Payments under the program were halted in December (because federal funds had run short) and then, in the final days of his service as Attorney General, Eric Holder announced that he would apply new rules limiting the scope of the practice.

Now the flow of money has resumed, albeit under the more restrictive new rules. “Given this week’s announcement, the chances that the Obama Administration will take further steps to rein in forfeiture abuse in its final year seem slim.” [Adam Bates/Cato, Scott Shackford, Ilya Somin, Santa Fe New Mexican (views of Brad Cates)] More: Trevor Burrus and Randal John Meyer.

Police roundup

  • Open-minded: liberal-leaning Marshall Project publishes Heather MacDonald, often found on other side of criminal justice debates, on why police shootings of “unarmed” persons are not as clear-cut a matter as one might think;
  • “Report: Dashcam Equipment in Chicago Police Vehicles ‘Intentionally’ Destroyed” [Bryant Jackson-Green, Illinois Policy]
  • Sure-footed SWAT response to San Bernardino terror attack proved value of police militarization, right? Not so fast [Anthony Fisher]
  • In December Cato held a conference on “Policing America,” catch up with the videos here [Jonathan Blanks]
  • “Head of multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task force says forfeiture reform may spell the end of these roving, self-funded teams of drug-fighting cops who aren’t answerable to any local authority. He makes a good argument, but not the argument he thinks he’s making.” [that’s Radley Balko summarizing Tim Helldorfer, Memphis Commercial Appeal]
  • U.S. Department of Justice “Wants to Punish Abusive Ferguson Police with Massive Raises” [Scott Shackford, more on civil rights suit]

Lyndon McLellan, target of structuring/forfeiture case, beats IRS

We covered this case last year:

…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.”

To make matters worse, a “prosecutor wrote menacingly to McLellan’s lawyer about the publicity the case had been getting,” warning that press attention “ratchets up feelings within the agency.”

In June of last year the IRS agreed to drop the charges and return McLellan’s money, and now a federal judge has told the agency to pay the store owner $20,000 for his legal costs, according to my Cato colleague Adam Bates, who has other links and thoughts on the case: “If the government cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person engaged in criminal activity, it should not be able to punish them as if they’re guilty.”

Law enforcement for profit roundup

Forfeiture roundup

  • “Justice Department suspends abusive asset forfeiture program – for now” [Ilya Somin]
  • Tulsa sheriff steers seizures to judge it once employed, invokes unclaimed property law which dodges burden of proof [The Frontier]
  • Op-ed claims that if Maryland cops grab your stuff you must be a “drug dealer,” trial or no [Joseph Cassilly, Baltimore Sun]
  • Quest for revenue-self-sufficient law enforcement can end in “independent, self-funding armed gangs” [Noah Smith, Bloomberg View]
  • “Get rid of policing for profit in Michigan” [Angela Erickson, Detroit News]
  • Congress has twice tried to make it easier for prevailing claimants to recover attorneys’ fees when recovering seized property, but the government finds ways to slip around [Scott Greenfield]
  • Value of assets seized by law enforcement in U.S. in 2014 exceeds value taken by burglars [Armstrong Economics]

Police roundup

  • Today at Cato, all-day “Policing in America” conference, watch online; also check out recent Cato podcasts with Caleb Brown on the power of cop unions [Derek Cohen] and law enforcement drones [Connor Boyack];
  • Despite recently enacted New Mexico law ending civil asset forfeiture, Albuquerque goes right on seizing residents’ cars [C.J. Ciaramella, BuzzFeed] Tulsa DA warns that asset forfeiture reform will bring headless bodies swinging from bridges [Radley Balko]
  • Through court orders and settlements, Justice Department has seized control of the practices of police departments around the country. How has that worked? [Washington Post]
  • Punishing the buyers: “The Nordic model for prostitution is not the solution — it’s the problem” [Stuart Chambers, National Post]
  • “Plaintiff Wins $57,000 Settlement Over False Gravity Knife Arrest” [Jon Campbell, Village Voice] Will Republicans block reform of New York’s notorious knife law? [Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit] Second Circuit on standing to sue by knife owners;
  • Union-backed bill had Republican sponsor: “Bill shielding identities of police who use force passes Pennsylvania House” [Watchdog]
  • Federalist Society convention breakout session on “Ferguson, Baltimore, and Criminal Justice Reform” resulted in fireworks [YouTube; Tim Lynch, Cato]

Police and prosecution roundup

  • Mark your calendar: December 1 Cato hosts a policing conference in Washington, D.C.;
  • “Note: DOJ thinks flying from Chicago to Los Angeles is suspicious.” Well, no wonder they did a forfeiture then! [@bradheath]
  • Mississippi voters on Tuesday returned longtime Attorney General Jim Hood to office by 56-44 margin [Radley Balko; Jackson Clarion-Ledger; earlier Balko on Hood’s spotted record as prosecutor]
  • “No! Mine is more unconstitutional!” Police and council in Charlotte, N.C. mull “whether to create ‘public safety zones,’ city areas where people with past arrests would be prohibited from entering.”‘ [Charlotte Observer]
  • Harvard lawprof Jeannie Suk on the St. Paul’s sexual assault case and the rapidly changing definition of rape [Jeannie Suk, New Yorker]
  • Prison “pay to stay” charges can far exceed any reasonable ability to pay, and few outside the world of ex-offenders “even know it’s happening” [Scott Greenfield]
  • “Was it a turf war gone mad? Or a botched police response?” [Nathaniel Penn, GQ, on the Waco biker gang shoot-out, earlier here, here, here]