I have never heard of this procedure, but it seems to constitute a violation of civil rights, in particular the fourth amendment.
Apparently the police can stop you on suspicion of drug trafficking or anything else and then seize your property under a procedure called "civil forfeiture." If you refuse to let them take your property, they can jail you. Getting your stuff back can be a long and expensive legal battle even though you are perfectly innocent.
Have we become a police state?
This is a question for Pat or James Martin to answer but anyone can have a stab at it just like the journalist who wrote the article.
Civil forfeitures have been around for quite some time. So has prosecution misconduct.
The idea behind civil forfeitures is that someone should not profit from their criminal behavior. And, when sufficient assets are linked to criminal conduct, the wrongdoer should forfeit the proceeds and assets which he has either gotten from or used in the commission of the offense. And, the extra added bonus is that it alleviates some of the financial burden placed on the taxpayers to fund law enforcement. In theory, all well and good.
However, like any other law, it can be used for an illegitimate purpose. One example of a good law put to a bad purpose is a municipalities' speed trap. Annex part of an interstate highway running next to a town to be inside the corporate city limits. Then have the city police stop all the out of state drivers and ticket them. It's less expensive to pay the fine than coming back and fighting it in a local court where your chances are slim to none, and Slim left town.
The way these forfeitures work is like this. A person is alleged to have been involved in criminal activity and assets which are discovered - cars, cash, etc. - in a legitimate stop, and which can be linked to the criminal behavior, are subject to a forfeiture proceeding. The forfeiture proceeding goes to court and the prosecutor has a lessened, or civil, burden of proof to seize the confiscated assets. In the criminal case, it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in the forfeiture case, it is a preponderance of the evidence. Or, to put it another way, is it more likely than not. And, the forfeiture proceeding is completely independent of whether criminal charges are filed.
As to prosecution misconduct, here's a real life example I was involved with in Illinois. Person A loans his Harley Gold Wing motorcycle to a "friend" - person B. Person B drives it to a locale where methamphetamine is being made by B and person C. A is not there and knows nothing of the illegal activity. B and C take C's car and go to town to get supplies. They're stopped, the police raid their camp and seize A's motorcycle. A is threatened with 7 years in prison as being part of the conspiracy, and his bike is subject to forfeiture. Mind you, there is no evidence found on the bike to link it to the meth operation, A was not even in the same county as the meth lab, and all the phone records and text messages between A and B show that A wanted his bike back after the loan period was over. Guess what? The offer was to drop the criminal charges in exchange for - yeah, you guessed it - one mint condition Harley motorcycle.
I was Court appointed to represent A, and got the charges thrown out based on lack of evidence. And, in the process, refused to consent to the forfeiture. Nevertheless, given that the forfeiture is a civil proceeding, and not a criminal one, he still had to hire an attorney to get the bike back. The courts don't pay me to represent people in civil cases - just criminal ones. And, as noble as this sounds, I still have to make a living and pay my secretary. She like to eat and pay rent like the rest of us, and depends on me to pay her. But, I digress.
So this innocent guy had to dig into his own pocket to fight a proceeding - paid for by the taxpayers - to get his rightfully owned property back to him which the evidence in the criminal case showed it should not have taken in the first place.
In answer to your last question Depending on the locale, and the ethics of the local prosecutor, "Yes."
This is all new to me, but I very much appreciate your explanation. It all sounds like a nightmare for the person on the wrong end of it and the remedies available to the injured party seem insubstantial at best.
'Les lois claires en théorie sont souvent un chaos à l'application.'
En théorie, il n'y a pas de différence entre la théorie et la pratique. Mais dans la pratique, il est. Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees.
Nous parlerons contre les lois insensées jusqu'à ce qu'on les réforme, et en attendant nous nous y soumettrons aveuglément.—Diderot
We rail against senseless laws until they are reformed, and in the meantime we blindly submit ourselves to them.
Is this correct?
in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. goal in practice it is.
"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, it is."
It turns out that the answer to my question is yes—we have become a police state. Here is another example of how law enforcement is being perverted by overzealous police:
The Founding Finaglers (the title of a book about America's founders) probably would have approved.
In their day only wealthy offspring went to school and many of them (not all) saw democracy as mob rule.
Here's what James Madison recorded of what he said on June 26 in the 1787 Convention:
In framing a system we wish to last for ages, we should not lose sight of the changes the ages will bring. An increase of population will increase the proportion who labor under all the hardships of life and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this country, but symptoms of a leveling spirit have sufficiently appeared in certain quarters to give notice of the future danger. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and check the other. It ought to be formed as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.
That and a whole lot more are on the Internet. If you want a link to it, let me know.
Alan, this situation is not a surprise, given our society's current value system. We have been on this wrong path for a generation, and it will not change easily. Yes, a police state is now in force, in more ways than one. It is not an accident that our culture has fallen to this low place. Fear underlies the changes that have taken place since the 1970s and demolished the political and economic institutions that grew after WWII.
There are many ways to look at the decline of quality of life. One is to compare gross domestic product (the goods and services produced by workers) with median household income. This graph reveals just how gross this decline has been. This is only a symptom of a far more important deterioration.
How could people have given away their power without a fight? Those who have been exploited by police "civil forfeiture" need to come together, share their stories, develop some strategies and take action against such abuses.