The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has become the latest law enforcement body to begin using “ERAD readers,” devices that allow police to freeze and seize any funds on pre-paid debit and credit cards, now used by many poorer and younger persons as a favored financial vehicle. The devices also allow police to obtain some data about conventional credit and ATM cards, but not, it appears from coverage, to freeze and seize funds in those accounts on the spot. “If you can prove can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you,” said a police spokesman. Oklahoma “is paying ERAD Group Inc., $5,000 for the software and scanners, then 7.7 percent of all the cash the highway patrol seizes.” [Aaron Brilbeck/News 9 Oklahoma, Clifton Adcock/Oklahoma Watchdog, Scott Greenfield (highway patrol’s views of what is and is not suspicious confer a great deal of arbitrary power), Justin Gardner/Free Thought Project last October on Arizona use]
Plus: “New Mexico Ended Civil Asset Forfeiture. Why Then Is It Still Happening?” [NPR] A car is stopped for “swerving,” and soon police have confiscated the $18,000 its owner was carrying for payroll and other expenses of her southern California janitorial business [ACLU of San Diego, p. 7, “It happened to me: Janitorial business”]
Gov. Larry Hogan yesterday signed an important package of reforms to forfeiture law in Maryland. Applause to all who helped make this happen, including Sen. Michael Hough, Rob Peccola and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice, and Gov. Hogan.
P.S. Some coverage of a January press event in which I participated at the Capitol, calling attention to the case for asset forfeiture reform in Maryland: Frederick News-Post, Maryland Reporter, WBAL. [cross-posted from Free State Notes]
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)]
- 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]
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.
- 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]
Caleb Brown interviews former New Mexico attorney general Hal Stratton on New Mexico’s move to abolish civil asset forfeiture.
…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.”
- Montgomery County, Maryland officials help plant letters praising speed cameras in local papers [The Newspaper] “Chicago issued $2.4 million in bogus traffic tickets from speed cameras” [David Kravets, ArsTechnica citing David Kidwell and Abraham Epton, Chicago Tribune]
- “DEA Promised TSA Agent a Cut of Passengers’ Seizable Cash” [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
- “Cops Seized Over $107,000 From Couple; Didn’t Charge Them With A Crime” [Rock Island, Ill.; Amy Alkon citing Quad Cities Dispatch-Argus]
- I was among those speaking at an Annapolis event unveiling a new bill to restrain and better control asset forfeiture [Frederick News-Post, WBAL, Scott Shackford/Reason, Grant Zeigenfuse/Maryland Reporter; earlier on South Mountain Creamery case; more on margarita machines as forfeiture perk]
- Texas: “Cops Getting Free License Plate Readers In Exchange For 25% Of The ‘Take’ And All The Driver Data Vigilant” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
- Cato podcast on asset forfeiture with Adam Bates. More: What the President should do;
- How does Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance spend his $800 million slush fund from bank settlements? Any way he pleases? [Scott Greenfield]