Friday, March 4, 2016

Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform: How to "Stop Cops From Stealing Stuff"

Does the above title offend you?
Whoever heard of police officers stealing stuff? Or worse, why would any state, any legal dominion have to pass such legislation in the first place.
Here is a tweet from Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, to give an explanation:

The major policy is more commonly referred to as Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform (CAFR).
This language describes a new statute, recently passed in the Florida State Senate, and working its way through other state legislatures and in Congress.
Now, what is civil asset forfeiture.
In many states, police departments can seize private property if they suspect that those goods are ill-gotten gains, or used in drug trafficking.
Millions of innocents have lost property from this process.
Because it falls under civil complaints, law enforcement does not have to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
In many cases, seizure results in a status of guilty until proven innocent.
Some owners fight for years to get their property back, especially if its money.
Many times, owners just give up.
This process has become legalized theft, as certain police departments look for property to seize and then transform into funding for their cash-strapped operations.
In California, Assemblyman David Hadley (R-Torrance) and Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City) teamed up to stop this abuse and reform the process.
Their bill received unanimous support in the state senate, but stalled in the assembly.
Ironically, more Democrats favored the freshman Republican's bill.
Yet pro-liberty legislation which protects our Fourth and Fifth Amendment Rights should pass undisputed, right?
Some Republicans across the country fear standing on the wrong side of law enforcement, or looking soft on crime. Some Democrats have also shared fears that their support for this legislation will put them at odds with otherwise faithful (and generous) labor unions.
Still, critics from across the political spectrum want this practice ended.  A police officer in Oklahoma (a state were CAFR is facing stiffer resistance) wants the practice amended, since he lost his own truck to local law enforcement because of this practice.
At any rate, what will it take for a CAF reform bill to pass in the state of California or anywhere else?
A review of previous successes may help.

In Michigan. what specific legal changes took place?
The reforms passed Wednesday will raise the evidentiary standards to “clear and convincing” rather than the current “preponderance of evidence.” The reform bills passed will also change disclosure rules, requiring local law enforcement to file detailed annual reports to the state when property is forfeited.
Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed off on the legislation within weeks:
Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed a seven-bill package that supporters see as a first step in a larger effort to reform the state's civil asset forfeiture laws, which allow police agencies to profit from seized property linked to a crime even if the owner is never charged or convicted.
The new laws will increase the burden of proof required to keep confiscated property from drug and public nuisance forfeiture cases, requiring "clear and convincing" evidence that it was related to a crime, up from "a preponderance" of the evidence under current law.
New Mexico and Montana have taken the most significant steps, banning the process entirely, and Minnesota instituted tighter restrictions, too.
Wisconsin has not passed similar reforms yet. Republican lawmakers actually killed the legislation this sessions. What happened?
Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said the law enforcement community lobbied hard against the reform measure, framing the bill as “anti-police.”
Mikalsen said the Assembly appeared to have the votes before a campaign of “misinformation” by the Sheriffs Association, the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, and district attorneys.
How could ending legalized theft be "anti-police"?
In Wisconsin, police agencies are allowed to keep 50 percent of proceeds. If the local agency turns the case over to federal law enforcement agencies, it can keep 80 percent of proceeds.
So, what does common-sense, pro-liberty bill like CAFR need to pass?
Better information, a more aggressive lobbying campaign to counteract the distortions.
How have state budgets hurt or hindered funding for law enforcement agencies? Discussions about pension or benefits reforms could free up money for local law enforcement activities.
Piecemeal reforms like the ones introduce in Michigan may be the way to go, too.
Here is a more detailed run-down on the seven bills passed in Michigan:
The seven-bill package approved by the Senate on Wednesday was introduced by the House in April and passed in June. Specifically, bills 4500, 4503, 4504, 4506, and 4507 will require law enforcement to submit detailed reports to the state when property is forfeited. Such detail includes the value of the seized assets, description of the property, and whether the owner of the property was convicted or charged with a crime. State police will be required to compile these annual reports and post them online.
Bills 4499 and 4505 will require a higher standard of evidence during civil court proceedings concerning seized property subject to forfeiture.
No matter what the stakes, lawmakers and executives need to show initiative protecting citizens' rights from unwarranted search and seizure, and any steps toward ending civil asset forfeiture  in all fifty states should be commended and promoted.

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