Civil Forfeiture: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Civil Forfeiture:  Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

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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The Sad Case of Lester Eugene Siler

The Sad Case of Lester Eugene Siler

Before I moved to Georgia in 2001, I was an Assistant District Attorney General in the Eighth Judicial District of Tennessee.  It is a sprawling 5-county district in two different time zones, but most of my work was in the largest county of Campbell.  When I say "large", I'm talking about maybe 45,000 people, or about 1/15th the size of Cobb County or Gwinnett County, and 1/20th the size of Fulton County of Dekalb County.  Everyone knows everyone else, pretty much.  There's one main high school, one Wal-Mart, one McDonalds.  You can't go to either without seeing someone you know.  So when I became a prosecutor, I already knew many of the cops and had gone to school with many of them. 

Not long after leaving the office five years later, news broke that five officers had been arrested for torturing a local small-time drug dealer named Lester Siler.  I didn't think much of it until I leared that there was a recording.  Apparently, Siler's wife had hidden a recorder when she saw the police approaching the house.  What happened next was awful and heartbreaking.  They threatened and mistreated Siler in order to get him to sign a form consenting to the search of his house, but in the recording you can already hear them beginning to search.

The police would later be arrested and prosecuted federally.  Most or all served prison time.  When I read the transcript of them torture and threaten a guy to sign a document consenting to a search of his house, I wonder in how many more "consent" searches and "voluntary" confessions that were actually the result of torture came across my desk? I have no idea.

Except for Siler's wife recording the event, no one would know about it.  I wouldn't be writing about Lester Siler and you wouldn't be reading about him.  It would be just another drug case where the police claim that the homeowner consented to a search of his home and signed a document saying so.    Even if Siler said otherwise, no one would have believed him.

If you have contact with the police in Georgia, record it.  It can't hurt, and it may help.

John

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City of Paragould Proposes Suspicionless Stops By Armed SWAT Agents

Someone had better talk some sense into this guy before he bankrupts the city with wrongful arrest lawsuits

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Cop Fired for Planting Dope Under Orders

Cop Fired for Planting Dope Under Orders

Just because someone gets arrested for having drugs in their car doesn't mean they had drugs in their car. 

Police Street Crimes Unit investigator Tim White is out of a job for swiping grass from an evidence locker and planting it at a residence to beef up the grounds for a search warrant application. Even more interesting, he says he did so on orders from a supervisor.

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St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse

<a href="http://reason.com/blog/2012/08/10/st-paul-cops-shoot-dog-in-wrong-door-rai">St. Paul Cops Shoot Dog in Wrong-Door Raid, Force Handcuffed Kids to Sit Near the Corpse</a>

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