Articles Tagged with reform

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city-3195717_1920-300x200After a lively debate, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville, Tennessee has agreed to renew its participation in a controversial federal civil asset forfeiture program called “equitable sharing.” Opponents from both the left and the right argue the program encourages “policing for profit.”

Civil asset forfeiture is the legal procedure where law enforcement can seize an individual’s property or cash without filing criminal charges. In most states, all that is required is the suspicion that the property was involved in a crime. In a criminal case, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. In Tennessee, in cases where a vehicle is seized, however, the burden of proving innocence lies with the property owner.
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bills-cash-collection-47344-300x212Former Illinois police chief Michael Newsome, who has been charged with the theft of over $200,000 in civil asset forfeiture funds, has waived his right to jury trial. Newsome was first arrested in 2012 and has been out on bond ever since.

Newsome has been charged with seven felonies. The charges include the theft of over $100,000 in government property, official misconduct, and the misappropriation of funds. The thefts are alleged to have occurred between 2007 and 2012.
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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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