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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Civil Forfeiture
Video shared by on in Criminal Defense Blog

Late-night comedian John Oliver takes on the practice of Civil Forfeiture.  It's hilarious (or at least it would be if it wasn't real). 



Forsyth County Forfeits an Entire House

TN Lawmakers Investigating "Policing for Profit"

Judge Calls Civil Forfeiture "State-Sanctioned Theft"

Civil Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

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CHP officers play a "game" where they pass around explicit photos from telephones they have seized.

Officer Shawn Harrington called it a "game." Harrington says other officers at the Dublin precinct routinely distributed pictures from phones of female arrestees. Images were forwarded to other officers and "non-CHP individuals." Court documents also describe a second incident in which Harrington forwarded images from a DUI arrestee's phone while she was being x-rayed. 

Encryption by default keeps criminals out of people's phones, even the criminals that hide behind uniforms and the color of law. The same goes for the warrant requirement recently ordered by the US Supreme Court. In a typical DUI arrest, there's really no reason for a cop to be going through the suspect's phone. Evidence of drunk driving is usually contained within the arrestees themselves, not their phones. At best, any time a cop does this, it's a fishing expedition for bigger charges. At worst, it's Harrington and his complicit bro cops, passing around nudie pics just because they can. Access and ability are the worst enablers. 

When cops complain about falling behind in the tech race while arguing against warrant requirements and encryption, one wonders whether this isn't part of the "problem." It's not so much that the criminals have gotten smarter than the cops. It's that the phones have. The incidents leading to Officer Harrington's arrest both created digital paper trails leading back to the California Highway Patrol. The minimal effort made to cover his tracks wasn't enough. Maybe this is why some cops fear the relentless forward march of technology: covering up misconduct has never been harder. 

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Drug forfeitures are usually relatively small.  The police might forfeit the cash someone has in their wallet or automobile or the automobile itself, but rarely do you see an entire house forfeited without a fight.  But that's apparently exactly what happened in Forsyth County:

The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is now the owner of a single-family home in west Forsyth, whose former residents the agency described as repeat drug offenders.

According to the sheriff’s office, Forsyth County Superior Court awarded it the two-story, 2,500-square-foot home in Sawnee View Farms on Oct. 29.

The house, which has a basement and sits on a half-acre lot, has been valued at about $258,000, according to county tax records.

The sheriff’s office believes this is the first time in recent memory that a house has been given to the county based on criminal activity.

But there is a catch: 

Despite the sheriff’s office taking ownership of the home, the agency still must undergo legal eviction proceedings to expel the people living in what he characterized as a “transient drug house.”

The home will eventually be put on the market, hopefully with an agent, but Piper said the sale will yield little, if any, profit.

The agency must first pay of the liens and mortgages against the property, which total about half the value of the house, he said. They will also pay the costs of the required legal proceedings.

Any remaining money would be handled through the legal guidelines of drug seizure funds.

The home was awarded to the sheriff’s office in a consent judgment, which states Wheeler agreed to forfeit the property.

That's highly unusual, which makes me think there is more to this story than meets the eye.  I can imagine what that might be, but it wouldn't be appropriate for me to speculate.


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You may have read here or elsewhere about the abuse of civil forfeiture laws by police.  It looks like Tennessee lawmakers are considering changes: 

Tennessee lawmakers are prepared to consider a major overhaul of laws that allow police to take cash off of drivers to fund their agencies.

Rep. Barrett Rich's bill, as drafted, would completely outlaw the practice known as civil asset forfeiture. That practice allows police to take people's cash or property without charging them with a crime.
While Rich didn't believe he had the votes to go that far, he said that there is an emerging consensus over other reforms to protect the innocent.
A prime example, Rich said, is the New Jersey man who had $22,000 cash taken from him during a traffic stop. An officer took George Reby's money based on his suspicion that it might be drug money.

Rep. Rich said that story "opened a lot of people's eyes" and has created a chance for reform.
"If we arrest a criminal, they are given an opportunity to have a preliminary hearing," the lawmaker said.
"I think that when the government does a taking of property, they should be given that opportunity immediately to be given at least hearing in front of an elected judge, a real judge."
Rich added that he wants to make sure that police are still allowed to take real drug money off the streets, while protecting the rights of the innocent.

Let's hope.  When police can seize property with impugnity, then things have gone way too far.  Hopefully, other states like Georgia will follow Tennessee's lead in trying to reign in this growing problem.

Judge Calls Civil Forfeiture "State-Sanctioned Theft"

Civil Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?



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A judge has said out loud what most lawyers already know:  civil forfeiture is legalize theft.

In the forfeiture case, the state wanted to seize Gregory Palazzari’s gas station in State College, Pa., for allegedly being a storage and selling place for cocaine. Palazzari pled guilty to drug trafficking charges, but argued that the gas station should not be forfeited under the law. The government argued Palazarri was not entitled to a hearing in court to present evidence against the forfeiture.

It IS state-sanctioned theft. The photo in this post is an overhead view of a lot full of seized cars.  Most civil forfeiture cases begin with a drug case. Civil forfeiture cases are entirely separate cases with their own case numbers, court dates and rules. Sometimes they will have the same judge and prosecutors, but not always. You can lose your property even if you win the underlying criminal case. In fact, their doesn't even have to be an underlying criminal case. The police can take your property even if they can't prove you did anything wrong.

In this remarkable case from Tennessee, police seized $22,000 from a man simply because he couldn't prove where it came from. That's outrageous. Your money is your money. You shouldn't have to prove that you got it legitimately. Rather, the burden should be upon the government (police) to prove that you didn't.

If you get involved in a case like this, please don't try to handle it yourself. There are some deadlines and required filings that will kill your case if you miss them. Call us. We can help.


Don't miss a single post! To be alerted when a new blog post appears (about every other day or so), click on "Subscribe to Blog" near the top of this page.

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I've been involved in many cases that include a civil forfeiture aspect, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney.  Put simply, civil forfeiture is where the police seize property because they think it has been used in a crime.  The onus is on the owner of the property to prove their innocence or else the property is forfeited (turned over) to the government.  As found in Reason magazine:

Under civil forfeiture, police can seize property from people who are never convicted—much less charged with—a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where the government must prove property was used in the commission of crime, civil forfeiture law presumes an owner’s guilt.

Civil forfeiture is a national problem. Law enforcement agencies seize millions of dollars worth of property each year with little or no due process for owners. In all but six states property owners are considered guilty until proven innocent. State law typically allows law enforcement to keep most or all of the proceeds from forfeiture—an enormous incentive to police for profit.

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