Articles Tagged with reform

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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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Civil asset forfeiture has become a central issue in the Republican races for attorney general and governor in Alabama. While incumbent Attorney General Steve Marshall has expressed support for the process and Governor Kay Ivey has shown little enthusiasm for reform, their opponents in the primary agree reform is needed.

The Alabama legislature recently attempted to reform civil asset forfeiture in the state. The first draft of the legislation would have required a criminal conviction before property could be seized. Law enforcement opposed this approach. In response, a revised bill was proposed, one which was more limited in scope but would have given more oversight to the process. However, even this limited bill failed.
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This spring, lawmakers in Alabama looked set to reform civil asset forfeiture. However, even though politicians and interest groups across the political spectrum supported reform, the reforms failed.

The libertarian Institute for Justice rates Alabama’s current civil asset forfeiture laws as “among the worst in the nation.” Civil asset forfeiture is the process where law enforcement can seize an individual’s property if it is suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, a criminal conviction is not required before property is seized. In Alabama, profits from civil asset forfeiture are used to fund law enforcement. This has led to accusations of abuse and “policing for profit.”
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