Update: I should have waited to read the fine print in the actual directive. This is much less a reform than the press release promised. I'll update soon. The directive is far too vague, has too many exceptions, and states it it is prospective only.
AG Eric Holder has put a big dent in the equitable sharing of money, property and car seizures between local cops and the feds. It's the first I'm hearing about it, and it's going to affect a lot of cases.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred.
Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.
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The New Yorker has a lengthy new article on civil forfeiture abuse by state and local authorities. It's filled with horror stories of corruption and violations of civil liberties.
In many states, it's no more than highway piracy:
Patterns began to emerge. Nearly all the targets had been pulled over for routine traffic stops. Many drove rental cars and came from out of state. None appeared to have been issued tickets. And the targets were disproportionately black or Latino.
In others, it's policing for profit. Some cities, like Detroit, try to justify the seizures as "quality of life" preservation under ancient vice statutes. This one is a doozy: [More...]
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Here's how forfeiture works in Texas: The cops take your money and property. They make you sign a form that if you relinquish the property, they won't file criminal charges against you.
As one lawmaker says:
“The idea that people lose their property but are never charged and never get it back, that’s theft as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
One mayor, in an attempt to justify the policy, says the cities need the money -- they may get an extra police car out of it.
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This comes as no surprise to me and other criminal defense lawyers representing those charged with drug crimes, but it's good to see it made public.
In an audit published Friday, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine examined thousands of seizures between October 2003 and November 2005.
Fine's report states that drug agents rarely counted the cash they took, often didn't provide receipts for seized money, rarely recorded the seizures in agency ledgers and often didn't ask their colleagues to witness their counting and handling of the money.
What this means according to the Inspector General:
The lack of internal controls over the seized cash leads to accusations of theft by the agents, the report states.
What it means in my opinion: Sometimes less money is reported seized than actually is seized. Because of the faulty reporting, and because some may be less than honest about the amount seized, it's very hard to prove.
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