Skip to comments.Minnesotans Score Small Victory in Civil Asset Forfeiture War
Posted on 05/18/2014 5:33:08 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine
On August 1, citizens in Minnesota will rejoice that the police can no longer steal their property without their being convicted or even charged with a crime. Until then, Minnesota remains an upside-down world, as do many other states, where police can seize cash and property if they think that somehow that cash or property was involved in a crime. Until August 1, citizens who have had their property seized will still have to prove a negative: that their property was neither the instrument nor the proceeds of the charged crime.
Lee McGrath, executive director of Minnesotas chapter of the Institute for Justice (IJ), which was instrumental in successfully pushing for passage of the bill, noted:
No one acquitted in criminal court should lose his property in civil court.
This change makes Minnesotas law consistent with the great American presumption that a person and his property are innocent until proven guilty.
Under present law, police in Minnesota not only don't have to bother with such niceties as warrants and judges as required under the Fourth Amendment, they are allowed to keep most of the assets seized for themselves or their departments. In Minnesota, until August 1, theft is legal if its done by the police.
IJ gave Minnesota a D on its Policing for Profit scorecard prior to passage of SF 874, explaining that
The owner is presumed guilty, bearing the burden of showing that he is the innocent owner.
Law enforcement receives as much as 90 percent of the value of the forfeited property, thus providing a profit incentive to law enforcement to focus on civil forfeitures instead of other law enforcement duties....
In some instances, officers have been alleged to keep the property [stolen] for their own personal use.
There are two standards for asset forfeiture, often called asset confiscation: criminal and civil. Under criminal confiscation, the usual rule of law prevails: arrest, trial, conviction, and sentencing. Before a person is convicted, the prosecution must present a high standard of proof of his guilt. Under civil law, however, the standard of proof is much lower and often is based on mere suspicion of wrongdoing. As IJ explains:
Forfeiture is the government power to take property suspected of involvement in a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture used to take the ill-gotten gains of criminal activity after a criminal conviction with civil forfeiture, police can take property without so much as charging the owner with any wrongdoing.
Owners caught up in civil forfeiture proceedings typically have few legal rights, while police and prosecutors enjoy all the advantages.
The number of those caught up in such illegal confiscations is legion. For instance, Tan Nguyen was driving home from Las Vegas, Nevada, with about $50,000 in cash, which he had won during his visits to several casinos. He was pulled over by officer Lee Dove for driving three miles an hour over the speed limit. The officer searched his car and found the cash, which he confiscated. When Nguyen protested, Dove threatened to seize and tow his car, leaving him stranded in the Nevada desert unless he got in his car and drove off and forgot that this ever happened. It was a daylight highway robbery and Nguyen sued.
A settlement was reached last week, and Humboldt County, Nevada, returned his money along with an extra $10,000 to pay for his legal expenses. IJ noted that Nevadas current system allows police officers such as Lee Dove to seize property under a legal standard lower than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used in criminal convictions. In its Policing for Profit report, IJ also gives Nevada a rating of D.
In Virginia, a state police officer stopped Victor Luis Guzman for speeding on I-95 and confiscated $28,500 from him without charging him with any crime. The fact that he was transporting cash donations from his church didnt matter. He had to sue to get the churchs money back.
In Florida, there is a stretch of highway now known as a forfeiture corridor on I-95 in Volusia County. Two law enforcement officers, Bob Vogel and Bill Smith, turned that stretch of highway into their own personal casino, with Vogel raking in more than $6.5 million before being caught. Two hours north on I-95, in Camden County, Georgia, Smith turned his forfeiture corridor into a $20 million payout over the past 20 years, using some of the money to buy himself a $90,000 Dodge Viper and build a party house for his friends.
The most recent and perhaps the most egregious example of taking under federal civil asset forfeiture laws is the case of United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The address is the location of the Motel Caswell, owned by Russell and Pat Caswell. The motel has been in the Caswell family for two generations and has rented out its rooms more than 125,000 times. Over the past 18 years there have been about 30 drug-related arrests at the motel, and each time the owners have cooperated with the police. But the DEA attempted to seize the million-dollar motel under federal civil asset forfeiture laws. After a lengthy trial the court threw out the DEAs claim, denied their seizure, and allowed the Caswells to live a quiet and peaceable life once again. Said the District Court: "The resolution of the crime problem [in Tewksbury] should not be simply to take [the Caswells'] property.
Scott Bullock, a co-author of the IJ study, said, "Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head. With civil forfeiture your property is guilty until you prove it innocent."
Minnesota is the first state to begin the process of turning the world right-side up. Close behind should be Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and Massachusetts.
Governments at all levels are searching wider and wider for more revenue sources to support their costs. The one thing that never occurs to them is to reduce their size and scope.
The local planning and permitting office was staffed for the building bubble. They haven’t reduced a single person. The department head told them if they didn’t want to be laid off to go out there and write fines. I’ve learned from a developer that he expects $3,000 worth of fines for every $100,000 of cost so he simply prices it in. Prior to this time they’d find something and you’d have a chance to fix it first. Now, they just “find” stuff and fine you.
Governments at all levels have become parasites on society.
Stop government sprawl!
Cops who steal — and the politicians who enable them — both deserve LONG prison sentences. Very long.
While that statement is true, the local police profit motive in civil asset forfeiture is out and out corruption above and beyond the general size and appetite of government at large.
“While that statement is true, the local police profit motive in civil asset forfeiture is out and out corruption above and beyond the general size and appetite of government at large. “
We had a local case where a grandmother’s grandson sold pot from her front porch. The local police seizure unit (yes, they have a unit that does nothing else) seized her property. Even the paper said they only did it because she owned the property outright. If she’d had a mortgage they’d never have bothered. I thought I’d have problems when a tenant was nabbed with 48 pot plants. But the law protects landlords.
We now have a kleptocracy rulling us.
I see you’re listed as being in FL, so I assume that’s where this occurred. Was it small-town Florida, or in the more densely populated areas?
And, more importantly, did the seizure stick, or did Grandma eventually get her house back?
As a side outrage, I think it’s ridiculous that Dem agitators like Obama talk about banks taking peoples’ homes when they don’t pay the mortgage, but seem to have no problem with government seizing homes that the people actually own.
“I see youre listed as being in FL, so I assume thats where this occurred. Was it small-town Florida, or in the more densely populated areas?”
This happened in the capital, Tallahassee. The city is run by a communist mayor ironically named Marks. No, she did not get her house back. I understand that the capital police and the sheriff, also a Democrat, have units dedicated to seizing property.
I used to know a CFO in Clearwater. A couple of partners he dealt with owned one of the biggest CPA firms and that firm owned one of Clearwater’s tallest buildings. Apparently, they used cocaine. So the FBI had a contact suggest to them that they get into the import business. The FBI supplied a boat and a crew and they made several very successful trips. Then the FBI moved in on them. They were all arrested. But, they all walked as they made a deal. They turned over their building, their business, their personal wealth and their houses and cars. They were not prosecuted. (Typically, their lawyer would take a huge chunk of that. I presume this was a way for the FBI to avoid losing anything to legal fees.)
So, these idiots got a valuable education and their freedom. The FBI got millions in assets. Incidentally, I often wondered at the human cost of our government supplying those drugs.
Sounds like entrapment, although they should have known better. I’m surprised the Grandma seizure stood, though.
As far as the grandma seizure, you need $5,000 down and $500/hour to use the “justice” system. Most people simply can’t afford it. The paper ran an article or two, but the law is the law and the authorities have set up entire departments to use that law to fund themselves.
As far as the entrapment, yes. But going to court would have destroyed the men even if they won, which was by no means assured. By signing over everything they at least got to start over.
Incidentally, they were all instantly divorced. I suspect (but don’t know) that their wives were able to claim half of their common property. Perhaps they got some of their stuff back that way. (But I don’t know that. That’s playing games I hope I never have to play.)
Yeah, I’ve gotten a couple of tastes of how expensive justice can be, mostly on the civil side.
I find it amazing that our government acts like justice is frictionless. When you have all the regulation we have, one pencil-neck deep in the bureaucracy is effectively your judge and jury, because he can impose a huge hurdle cost at the stroke of a pen. The IRS moves against conservatives—audits, tax-status games, requests for donor lists—fall into this class of arbitrary penalty.
Between now and August 1, get ready for the tsunami of government seizures.