Support American’s For Forfeiture Reform

Guest blog by Eapen Thampy of American’s For Forfeiture Reform.

I work for a non-profit research organization called Americans for Forfeiture Reform. We do research on a little known legal procedure called civil asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture laws are a set of laws at the state and federal levels that allow the police to seize property in a process that violates American citizen’s due process rights. Often, people who are never charged or convicted of a crime have their property taken from them. Worse, because a federal forfeiture provision allows the Department of Justice to return forfeiture money to local law enforcement, circumventing state laws regarding where forfeiture money is appropriated.

There are a several reasons why civil asset forfeiture laws pervert justice, but here are a couple of the most important: First, it distorts the incentives of law enforcement to prioritize enforcement of crimes that yield seizeable property at the expense of more legitimately structured law enforcement priorities. Second, at the state level, many state laws regarding forfeiture money are circumvented, allowing the police to become self-funding executive branch agencies. This is very dangerous for democracy.

Missouri has a constitutional provision, statutory law (including a reform bill signed by Holden in 2001), and binding state Supreme Court precedent that all direct forfeiture money in Missouri to an education fund. My research indicates that despite all this, at least $50 million and perhaps more was diverted from Missouri’s education funds in 2008 and 2009. In a climate of budgetary crisis, this money is vitally needed to protect our most valuable resources, our children.

In California, the amount of money diverted from the state’s general fund over 2008-2009 was over $130 million, and may be much higher. Civil forfeitures in California are particularly problematic because law enforcement agencies have been laying off employees for enforcement of all other crimes, including crimes of violence. Yet aggressive law enforcement actions against producers and consumers persist, because the federal government keeps paying California’s local law enforcement to prioritize enforcement of cannabis laws that result in seizeable property and ready cash. This should be a particular concern to Proposition 19 advocates, because it means that the federal government can indirectly leverage tens of millions of dollars of forfeiture money against the likelihood of Proposition 19 passing.

I work for two things: First, I want to pass a federal law that says all forfeitures must be criminal forfeitures, requiring a criminal conviction, and made as part of a sentence. There is some room for excepting emergency or wartime forfeiture powers, but there must be strict limits, civilian oversight, and transparent action. This will protect basic due process rights. Second, I want to end the DOJ’s ability to criminally circumvent state laws by ending the Equitable Sharing program. This is a benefit to every one of the 50 states where money is diverted from the state general funds.

If this seems like a compelling and worthwhile cause, I am looking to raise $3,000 dollars by the 20th of August to cover the cost of obtaining police records on incidents, seizures, and financial statements on forfeiture practices around the nation. This is material that will be digitized for public viewing and will form the basis for significant academic and media coverage of forfeiture abuses. We also are sending one of our staff members to do some investigative research in Tehana, Texas, a town where civil forfeiture actions were used by Tehana police to take hundreds of thousands of dollars from law-abiding black Americans traveling through the town. Please contribute to our efforts; even a small donation will be valuable to our work. You can donate here: http://forfeiturereform.com/how-you-can-help/

Eapen Thampy
Policy Analyst
Americans for Forfeiture Reform
www.forfeiturereform.com
573-673-6951

Comments

10 Comments

  1. Eapen Thampy on

    Thanks for posting my note, Cannabis Culture!

  2. David762 on

    Except this is a huge money-maker not just for LEOs, but also DAs, and judges, sometimes for all of local governments, as well as the DEA.

    If our judicial system and law enforcement apparatus were not so absolutely FUBAR, this type of forfeiture would have been ruled illegal and unconstitutional. It is tantamount to legalized highway robbery by the State itself, not privateers in the commission of the State as 250 years ago. Nothing quite like

    Another website apropos to this subject is { http://www.fear.org ].

  3. Angela Bacca on

    Obviously neither of you read, this is a letter from Eapen Thampy from Americans for Forfeiture reform.

    -Angela

  4. Anonymous on

    Yes I can read, but sometimes I choose not to. I find Ed’s blogs tedious so I rarely actually read them through. Yeah, he did mention due process in there once. I didn’t see him go into the subject at any length though. You’re right about America though. You just have to accept the fact that you live in The Great Satan’s nation, where the Constitution only applies when it’s in the government’s and law enforcement’s favor. Aside from that, it’s Halloween every day of the year for the cops. They go to your house with some bags and fill em up. Then they leave. It’s more commonly know as robbery.

  5. Anonymous on

    Did you even read the article??? Ed states its a violation of our due process..in fact I would say it was his biggest point. But in terms of constitutionality, we as Americans have allowed our rights to be dwindle down to almost non-existence…If its constitutional as per Raich vs. Gonzales, for the Fed to come in and regulate Intra-state Commerce and what we can put in our bodies…then we got nothing. And you say you don’t see anything there but its in he eye of the beholder or in this case The Supreme Court. Unconstitional laws are passed all the time…its Called America!!

  6. Anonymous on

    I found this about “due process”;

    “Generally, due process guarantees the following (this list is not exhaustive):

    * Right to a fair and public trial conducted in a competent manner
    * Right to be present at the trial
    * Right to an impartial jury
    * Right to be heard in one’s own defense
    * Laws must be written so that a reasonable person can understand what is criminal behavior
    * Taxes may only be taken for public purposes
    * Property may be taken by the government only for public purposes
    * Owners of taken property must be fairly compensated” http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_duep.html

    I don’t see anything there that allows cops to take peoples’ stuff and use it themselves without compensation.

  7. Anonymous on

    “Amendment 5 – Trial and Punishment, Compensation for Takings. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

    Apparently Ed never read the US Constitution. Peoples’ property is being taken without due process of law and being used by the public, meaning the cops who are a public service and they are using the vehicles etc without compensation to the person it was stolen from.

  8. Anonymous on

    There shouldn’t be an apostrophe in your headline? Is that better or worse?

  9. Anonymous on

    “Americans” is plural, not possessive. Not that most people understand the difference….

  10. Anonymous on

    This is true, cops treat smokers like crackheads and armed robbery suspects. Too bad the law wants it illegal, it will pay their bills and the judges cadillac, and the cops children’s playhouse and alcohol cabinet! BUt why wouldn’t legal weed generate 10x as much, we’ll the law get off on it, because it non taxable!