Fighting to Stop Asset Forefeiture by Police Isn’t That Easy
You know that the issue of asset forfeiture is a big deal in this country when it’s reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), FreedomWorks, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center for American Progress, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition — among others — have joined together in their efforts to stop the practice of asset forfeiture in this country.
Asset forfeiture, in a nutshell, is law enforcement taking the property of an individual and keeping it — even if that person is not charged with a crime, much less convicted of any wrongdoing. It’s been called “policing for profit.”
We’ve been discussing the big (BIG) problem of police seizing assets for profit here for a long while, sharing horror story after horror story of innocent folk (like mom and pop store owners, for instance) who have been seriously hurt by this practice. See:
- The Forfeiture Epidemic: When the Government Just Takes Your Property and Keeps It
- Will Media Coverage Finally Stop Government From Grabbing Your Property in Forfeiture?
- Dallas D.A. Forfeiture Funds: The Temptation of All That Stuff and the Craig Watkins Scandal
- 2015 Update on Law of Asset Forfeitures: Federal and Texas – Are You Any Safer?
Dallas District Attorney Forfeiture Investigations: Update
Since the federal and state investigations in the asset forfeiture practices of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office began, we’ve had an election and Craig Watkins has been replaced by Susan Hawk as the head prosecutor. So, it’s not Hawk’s actions that were audited even though it is her budget that is going to have to pay back $112,000 to the federal government’s forfeiture fund after the federal audit results were tallied.
The Justice Department found that under the previous district attorney’s reign, over $100,000 was spent to pay the bar dues of attorneys working in the office. And remember that pretty red Porsche that was lost for awhile? Well, the DOJ determined that $1800 in forfeiture funds were spent on a settlement in that incident and demanded that the money be returned to them.
Of course, in the big scheme of things this $112,000 isn’t all that much moola — and after the check is sent, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office will be welcomed back again at the federal forfeiture fund bank account window.
Oh, and the audit being done by the State of Texas? It’s still ongoing.
Now State Lawmakers Are Fighting Forfeiture
As for the forfeiture problem nationally, we’re seeing lawmakers starting to act. But how much good are they doing? How much success are they achieving? Well, it’s interesting to consider because it’s no slam dunk to get this done.
1. California tried to pass a new state law to stop their law enforcement agencies from taking the property of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. The proposed bill failed to get out of the statehouse. See, “California civil forfeiture curb soundly defeated,” in the Sacramento Bee.
2. Pennsylvania has a bill moving through its statehouse, but things seem to be getting stuck there. See, “Civil forfeiture reform bill stuck in state committee“ at LancasterOnline.
3. Oklahoma has a state senator who’s introduced a bill to reform forfeiture laws in that state. It’s new. See, “State senator wants to change asset forfeiture law,” reported by KSWO-TV.
4. In New Mexico, new laws were passed regarding forfeiture. It was banned. That’s great — except now there’s battles being fought over the meaning and extent of the new laws. Seems the police are reading things a lot different than some other folk. See, “Attorneys say cities won’t budge on DWI seizures, despite new state law,” in the Santa Fe New Mexican (September 2, 2015).
Forfeiture at the Federal Level
Meanwhile, it’s amazing what is happening at the federal level. First of all, that successful passage of forfeiture reform in New Mexico? The response by the Department of Justice was to “decertify”all state operations in the state of New Mexico from cooperating with federal agencies in federal forfeiture operations.
Meaning what? The DOJ cut the federal forfeiture money to New Mexico after the new reform laws were passed.
How this works: the federal Equitable Sharing Program provides for the federal government to split the assets taken in forfeiture actions with the state and local police. Since 2001, $2.5 billion has been seized from people never charged with a crime and without any search warrant; from that, $1.7 Billion was shared with state and local law enforcement agencies.
By “decertifying” New Mexico, it was shut out of this program.
And the Justice Department threatened to “decertify” California, too, which some are reporting is the reason why forfeiture reform failed in California. Apparently, this has succeeded in thwarting attempts of other states, like Missouri and North Carolina, from following New Mexico’s lead. See, “Federal Government Attempts To Undermine Civil Forfeiture Reform in California,“ in Forbes.
What Does This Mean for Dallas and North Texas?
Right now, all law enforcement agencies still have the ability and legal wherewithal to take property without a search warrant from someone who has not — and who may never be — charged with a crime. Both state and federal laws allow for this. And lots (LOTS) of money is involved here, which is revenue to these agencies.
If you or a loved one faces a forfeiture action, then you have to fight it. Or accept the taking. Because right now, it’s happening in Texas.
For more information, see Michael Lowe’s in-depth article on defending against federal forfeitures, STRUCTURED CASH DEPOSITS: WHAT DO I DO WHEN THE IRS CID AGENT COMES?, as well as our web resources pages and Michael Lowe’s Case Results.
Also watch this video that explains what’s happening here:
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