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civil forfeiture Tag

Civil asset forfeiture is one thing that can bring together the left and right. I've documented the few times states have addressed this issue and it's made me happy that the Supreme Court will address this issue next term. Reason explained the case:
The case is Timbs v. Indiana. It arose in 2013 when a man named Tyson Timbs was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to one year on home detention and five years on probation. A few months after his arrest, the state of Indiana also moved to seize Timbs' brand new Land Rover LR2, a vehicle worth around $40,000. A state trial court rejected that civil asset forfeiture effort, however, on the grounds that it would be "grossly disproportionate to the gravity of [Timbs'] offense" and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the imposition of "excessive fines."

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed amendments to stop the Department of Justice's civil asset forfeiture program, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced in July. The amendments received support from those within the House Freedom Caucus and some of the biggest liberals in Congress.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has kept his word. The Department of Justice has expanded its asset forfeiture program that will allow authorities to seize a citizen's property even if they have not been charged with a crime. The DOJ's program can even apply in the fourteen states that have banned civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction.

Just as states have finally taken steps to stop civil asset forfeiture, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to take the federal government a few steps back. In a speech to the National District Attorneys Association, Sessions announced that this week the Department of Justice hopes to issue "policies to increase forfeitures."

The House Ways and Means Committee has passed a bill that limits when the IRS can take action on taxpayer assets. From The Hill:
The bill concerns cases where taxpayers are suspected of “structuring” transactions under $10,000 to avoid bank-reporting requirements. Under the legislation, the IRS would only be able to seize funds in suspected structuring cases when the funds came from illegal sources or the transactions were structured in order to conceal other criminal activity. Additionally, the legislation would establish a process to review seizures.

Civil forfeiture remains a controversial issue in America since it's "a process by which the government can take and sell your property without ever convicting, or even charging, you with a crime." The procedures are civil, which means defendants do not receive the same protections given to criminal defendants. Connecticut has put an end to this procedure when the legislature passed a law that bans civil forfeiture without a criminal conviction.

There's a simple explanation for why civil asset forfeiture laws are coming under fire---they ruin lives. Not in the way a hefty speeding ticket or 7 am-on-the-dot tow "ruins lives," but in a real, "my life savings are gone and I don't know how I'm going to pay for my next meal" kind of way. Take Philadelphia, for example. From 2002 to 2012, the City of Philadelphia raked in $64 million in forfeiture funds. Licensed marijuana growers in Michigan have had their homes, property, and assets seized, contributing to a 10 year, $250 million payout to law enforcement. New Mexico took in $4 million in one year based on single sniff tests by drug dogs. The kicker? Much of what is seized by law enforcement is held without any evidence that the property owner has committed a crime. Last year, 24 year-old Charles Clark became just one more victim of a system that benefits law enforcement at the expense of everyday citizens. He lost $11,000 after officials decided that carrying cash in an airport should be treated as a crime---even though there's nothing unlawful about it. The Institute for Justice has the details:

Civil forfeiture is a huge problem in America. How could it not be? Any policy written to allow law enforcement agencies to hold property responsible for a crime that may or may not have been committed by its owner is eventually doomed. Police have used civil forfeiture procedures to seize millions of dollars worth of cash and property in places like Philadelphia and Michigan, and citizens have been largely powerless to stop it. Federal and cross-country reform efforts have been slow-going, but the New Mexico legislature has passed groundbreaking legislation that will dramatically cut down on the problem of "policing for profit." Cato explains how the bill---if signed by Republican Governor Susana Martinez---will make the law more fair towards property owners:
Among other things, the New Mexico bill requires a criminal conviction for forfeiture actions, bolsters the “innocent owner” defense by requiring that the owner know that his/her property was being used illegally, requires that all forfeiture proceeds be deposited into the general fund rather than into the seizing agencies, and limits the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to circumvent state law by utilizing the federal equitable sharing program.
This is huge.