Rapper NBA Youngboy was arrested on suspected drug charges in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last Monday during a raid by Baton Rouge Police and the FBI. The Baton Rouge Street Crimes Division claims they received an anonymous tip about individuals brandishing guns in an abandoned lot. During the raid, 16 people were arrested and $79,000 was seized through civil asset forfeiture.
While the anonymous tip concerned weapons, the accused rapper was ultimately arrested on drug possession charges. NBA’s lawyer claims that not only did his client not have any illegal substances on him during the raid, but he was also unarmed. While only one illegal weapon was found during the raid, police and FBI seized a total of 14 firearms and $79,000 in cash.
The rapper claims he did not do anything illegal, but it may not matter under Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws. At this time, there is no evidence the cash seized was obtained through illegal means; however, someone being present at the scene of a crime and aware of illegal activity is often enough for law enforcement to seize assets at will. This often results in assets being seized from individuals who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Louisiana’s harsh civil asset forfeiture laws require only minimal evidence of wrongdoing to seize property. No conviction is required, and merely being present at a crime scene is often enough to warrant seizure. Under LA law, an innocent individual must prove they did not know about or consent to criminal activity to retain ownership of forfeited property – a comparatively high bar among states.
The loose requirement for seizure in Louisiana is not the only controversial aspect of their asset forfeiture laws. LA law enforcement keeps 80% of assets seized while the other 20% goes to the criminal court fund. Some activist groups claim this creates a large conflict of interest between police and those they are sworn to protect. From 2000 to 2014, Louisiana state law enforcement took home an average of $6.6 million per year in seized assets, a vast majority of which were cash seizures.
Louisiana also does not give detailed reports on its forfeiture program. Since the burden of proof falls on property owners to prove they are innocent after the fact, cash can potentially be seized from individuals with little justification or recourse.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s close involvement in this particular arrest is a common feature of civil asset forfeiture cases. Through the Federal Sharing program, state law enforcement agencies around the country can keep 80% of assets seized if they work in tandem with federal officers. This program was originally designed to increase the amount of cooperation between federal and state officers, but it potentially leads to federal agencies incentivizing further conflict of interest. Louisiana law enforcement actively participates in the program, bringing in an average of $2.6 million in revenue per year from 2000 to 2013.
The Baton Rouge Police Department seizing $79,000 from the accused is simply one high-profile example of something that happens every day. There appears to be no direct evidence the cash was obtained illegally, but under Louisiana’s civil asset forfeiture laws, there is little the rapper can do to retain ownership of his seized property. Given the large amount of revenue civil asset forfeiture can bring into the state, it will likely continue to be a controversial aspect of LA law enforcement going forward.
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