Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

Finally, reform of structuring forfeiture — and the farm story that helped

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.

Here’s the Justice Department memo, and Kent Hoover at the Business Journal chain has more coverage.

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.”

Montgomery County authorities impound kids for walking on street, cont’d

I’ve now expanded Monday’s post into a longer Cato post. Among the new material, it links Petula Dvorak’s excellent WaPo column (“Our rapid march toward police-state parenting has got to end”) in which, to show how far we have moved, she quotes a checklist from a 1979 book on knowing whether your six-year-old is ready for first grade: “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”

Megan McArdle notes “the kind of range of movement that those of us over 30 recall as a normal part of childhood” and names some possibilities of what social forces might have brought about such an extreme shift in attitudes, from cable news (magnifying the very-rare-in-fact peril of stranger abductions) to the lack of daytime “eyes on the street” to the ubiquity of mobile phones and report-possible-abuse lines (“It would be surprising if we lowered the price of being an officious busybody and didn’t get a lot more of it.”)

The Meitiv family has now issued a statement about the episode; they have a pro bono lawyer from Wiley Rein. The police account is here (“the victim children”). More from Lenore Skenazy:

Aren’t prisoners allowed one phone call, or is that just on TV? Because the Meitiv kids were not allowed to contact their parents in the six hours they were held by the authorities.

This is probably as good a place as any to share my personal experience: by around age 9 or 10 in the early 1960s I had the run of downtown Detroit and wandered around by myself to all sorts of attractions there, returning to my mother’s place of work at the end of the business day. That was considered a little precocious and my family was proud of me on that account. Once with some extra money in my pocket I even went into a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant by myself and ordered, ate, and paid for a meal with tip, a story told for years afterward.

P.S.: “This is kind of insane — in Illinois it’s illegal to leave a 13-year-old home alone” [Christopher Ingraham, but see comments below (not illegal in Illinois as such, only potentially so depending on a range of factors)]

Montgomery County seizes “free-range” kids again

On Sunday afternoon Montgomery County, Maryland police and Child Protective Services seized the free-range Meitiv children, ages 10 and 6, after their parents had again let them play by themselves at a park. The kids were supposed to return home by 6; the police did not call the by-then-frantic parents until 8 p.m. [WUSA; Lenore Skenazy] Although initial accounts placed the seizure at the park, per tweets Sunday evening by Fox5 journalist Marina Marraco, the kids were walking back from the park and had gotten to within 1/3 mile of home when police intercepted and picked them up pursuant to a 911 call from “a neighbor” who had spotted them walking alone. The Meitiv family had become the center of a national cause célèbre in January when the county charged the parents with child neglect for letting the two kids walk home from a park. In March, CPS found the neglect charge “unsubstantiated” but puzzlingly deemed the parents “responsible” for it anyway.

More from WTTG/Fox5 Washington: parents reunited with kids after agreeing to “sign a temporary safety plan to take them home, which means they are not allowed to leave the children unattended at all. …Police say after a thorough investigation, a decision about whether or not the Meitivs will face charges will be made.” And from Ellen Rowland (“Thoughts on the criminalization of childhood,” earlier this month) and from Petula Dvorak, Washington Post (“Our rapid march toward police-state parenting has got to end,” and don’t miss checklist at the end from a 1979 book on six-year-olds, on first-grade readiness: “Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?”) (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty in revised and expanded form)

New Mexico abolishes civil asset forfeiture

Significant news: New Mexico “Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has signed [into law] HB 560 … effectively abolish[ing] civil asset forfeiture by requiring a criminal conviction before the government can seize property.” [Adam Bates/Cato; Scott Shackford, Reason and more]

Late this afternoon (Monday) I’ll be speaking to an invitation-only group in Annapolis on what state lawmakers should know about the gathering momentum for civil forfeiture reform. If you’re in or near Maryland’s capital city and interested in learning more, contact me.

“No-knock” raids and the Founders

Radley Balko on the aftermath of a Cambridge, Md. “no-knock” police raid gone very wrong: “if the Fourth Amendment is due to the Founders’ offense at British soldiers forcibly entering homes in daylight hours after knocking and announcing to search for contraband, it seems safe to say that the Founders would be appalled by the fact that today, dozens of times each day, heavily armed government officials break into homes, often at night, without first knocking and announcing, in order to conduct searches for contraband.” More: Adam Bates, Cato.

Law enforcement for profit roundup

  • Missouri law incentivizes local ticket-writing, Illinois not so much. Guess how municipalities respond? [Jesse Walker] “Ferguson’s Court Fine Scandal Arose Because Of Its Bloated Government” [Scott Beyer; earlier on fines and fees in Ferguson here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.] “Nassau’s top cop orders retraining of officers who write fewest tickets” [Newsday via @GoLongIsland]
  • Maryland House passes forfeiture reform 81-54, with nearly all GOPers voting against the property rights side [my Free State Notes post, Maryland Reporter and more (Baltimore County Del. and former police officer John Cluster “said he hadn’t seen a single case of abuse in his time”), Jason Boisvert]
  • “Quiet change expands ATF power to seize property” [Adam Bates, Cato]
  • Meanwhile on the civil side, hedge funds place heavy bets on litigation finance [Paul Barrett, Business Week]
  • In news that will surprise few libertarians, debt collection on behalf of government agencies is fraught with problems [CNN project overview links to individual stories]
  • Among its numerous other problems, pending “human trafficking” bill would establish a fund to cycle fines back to law enforcement and victim advocates [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason]
  • Investigation into forfeiture in Indiana [Indianapolis Star]

“Short Circuits” on transit police arbitration

Our friends at the Institute for Justice have recently gone public with a beta version of what had been an internal newsletter, called Short Circuits, providing condensed (and sometimes acidulous) summaries of cases out of the federal courts of appeals. You can subscribe here. One of recent interest:

WMATA, a transit agency that serves the greater D.C. area, fires two police officers. (One allegedly struck a passenger and lied about it. The other allegedly altercated with a companion and lied about it.) Arbitrators order the pair reinstated, but by then their Maryland certification has lapsed, and, after the transit police chief voices strenuous opposition to their recertification, Maryland commissioners refuse to recertify the two. WMATA can’t have uncertified officers, so they are fired again. 4th Circuit: Which is cool.

Anti-drug-overdose compound could save lives…

…but counsel for the Maryland State Medical Society told a panel in Annapolis that doctors fear liability should they prescribe it. In recent years police and first responders have increasingly been trained in the use of the emergency drug Naloxone, which counteracts overdoses from heroin and opiates, and a proposed bill would allow physicians to prescribe the substance to users, family members, and others who might intervene in case of an overdose. [Rebecca Lessner, Maryland Reporter]

George Tolley, representing the Maryland Association of Justice, a trial lawyers group, asked that the immunity provision be taken out of the bill, over a concern that it would have “a domino effect” and could impact people administering other emergency drugs, such as for epilepsy and diabetes.

“If (doctors) exercise reasonable care, then they cannot be sued,” Tolley said.

Bill Sponsor Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, responded “That’s the crux of this whole bill.”

For me but not for thee: Montgomery County lawn pesticide ban

I’ve got a new post at Cato at Liberty about a proposed countywide ban on common lawn and turf pesticides in Washington, D.C.’s suburban Montgomery County. The best part is that county officials are frantically maneuvering to get the county’s own playing fields exempted from the ban. The piece concludes:

Libertarians often note that the state freely bans private conduct in which it’s happy to indulge itself — federal investigators can lie to you but it’s a crime if you lie to them, adopting federal accounting practices in your own business is a good way to get sent to prison, and so forth. But the double standard asked for here could wind up being — well, to coin a phrase, as bald as a Rockville lawn.

More: From the Washington Post’s piece, quoting a retired minister who lives in Silver Spring: “My lawn is such a little fragment of American Freedom. Please respect it.” [cross-posted at Free State Notes]

More: Kojo Nnamdi Show, Euvoluntary Exchange (more on provisions of bill, including enumeration of “non-essential” pesticides to be restricted, a list that incorporates by reference lists in use in other jurisdictions like Ontario and the European Commission and grants the county executive authority to name others; links back to this county document); Gazette in October; Brad Matthews, Watchdog.

“Study Confirms That E-Cigarettes Generate Virtually No Toxins”

Maybe I’m too cynical, but it always struck me that in proposals to ban vaping the supposed risks to bystanders were just a pretext anyway. “A new study of leading American and British brands, reported in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, confirms [earlier reports of low sidestream exposures], finding that the levels of potentially problematic substances in e-cigarette aerosol [reaching nearby persons] are about the same as those detected in ambient air.” [Jacob Sullum; recent ban in Montgomery County, Maryland]