Articles Tagged with reform

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sunset-49383_1920-300x225For more than three months, police departments in Mississippi have seized property from individuals with no legal authority after a forfeiture law quietly lapsed. Law enforcement agencies say they did not notice the lapse.

The law in question had allowed police agencies to seize cash or property suspected of being involved with illicit drugs unless the owner challenged it in court within 30 days of the seizure. This procedure is called “administrative forfeiture” and was used for seizures which totaled less than $20,000. For larger sums, “judicial forfeiture” was used. Judicial forfeiture requires law enforcement agencies to sue in court in order to have a judge sanction the forfeiture. The burden of proof for judicial forfeitures is also higher than for administrative forfeitures.
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automotive-bmw-car-113176-300x200Shortly after unveiling reforms to civil forfeiture procedures in Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, a class-action lawsuit was filed against the county. The lawsuit argues that the county has been inappropriately disposing of vehicles seized using civil asset forfeiture.

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal process where law enforcement may take possession of an individual’s property if that property is suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, neither a criminal conviction nor even criminal charges are required in order for property to be seized. In New York, 60 percent of the proceeds from civil asset forfeitures go to law enforcement. There is little oversight on how this money is spent. This has led to criticisms from across the political spectrum that law enforcement has an incentive to seize property.
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Three and a half years ago, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act of 2014. It was designed to protect citizens and give greater transparency to the process of civil forfeitures. Despite being mandated to publish annual reports of forfeitures in the district, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has so far failed to do so. As a result, it is impossible to see whether the reforms have had their desired effect.

On Nov. 18, 2014, the D.C. Council unanimously passed the reforms which, at the time, were touted as “a model for the states.” Key changes to civil asset forfeiture procedures included a new presumption that property owners were innocent and that the burden of proof for seizure lay with the government and not the individual. Additionally, cash amounts below $1,000 were no longer forfeitable.
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According to testimony given at a hearing led by U.S. Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL6) last week, the IRS owes 75 percent of taxpayers refunds for wrongful civil asset forfeiture seizures. Despite this, only 16 percent have received refunds.

For three years, Roskam, who ranks fourth among the House Republican leadership, has led the fight in Congress to stop abuses of civil asset forfeiture by the IRS. His work has broad bipartisan support. In 2017, together with John Lewis (D-GA5), Roskam pushed to have refunds given to those who had had assets taken without reason.
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In September 2015, Jean Carlos Herrera was driving his 16-year-old SUV from New York to Los Angeles when law enforcement in Iowa pulled him over. The police did not charge Jean Carlos with any crime. Nonetheless, they seized both his car and the $45,000 in cash they found inside.

When he was pulled over in Pottawattamie County, Jean Carlos refused to allow the police officer to search his vehicle. Despite this, the officer nonetheless examined his car, claiming there were inconsistencies between the story Herrera and his passenger told about why there were traveling across the country. According to a court record, a police dog also examined the car and detected narcotics. No drugs were found in the car.
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