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How Police All Over the US Grab Cash, Cars, Even Homes from the Innocent

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Just as government corruption and private sector looting have exploded in the last thirty years, so too have police shakedowns. As the Sarah Stillman reports in a must-read New Yorker story, a type of seizure called civil forfeiture that was intended to hobble drug kingpins has now become a big revenue generator for police departments in many areas of the country. As the article depressingly records, in some places, such as a stretch of road in East Texas, civil forfeiture is a mechanism for local cops to separate people with out of state or rental license plates from their jewelry and cash. In other places, cars and even homes are the objects of the official seizures. The reason this form of legal larceny hasn’t gotten more attention is that the victims are often minorities (read unlikely to have powerful friends) and lower income.

Civil forfeiture is yet another aggressive policing tool brought into legitimacy the War on Drugs. As Stillman explains:

The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means…

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.

One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. (Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s forfeiture was slugged State of Texas v. $6,037.) “The protections our Constitution usually affords are out the window,” Louis Rulli, a clinical law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading forfeiture expert, observes. A piece of property does not share the rights of a person. There’s no right to an attorney and, in most states, no presumption of innocence. Owners who wish to contest often find that the cost of hiring a lawyer far exceeds the value of their seized goods. Washington, D.C., charges up to twenty-five hundred dollars simply for the right to challenge a police seizure in court, which can take months or even years to resolve….

Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords. Law-enforcement officers were empowered to seize money and goods tied to the production of illegal drugs. Later amendments allowed the seizure of anything thought to have been purchased with tainted funds, whether or not it was connected to the commission of a crime. Even then, forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them.

And this is when the practice started going off the rails. Initially, the focus was on drug kingpins; the law allowed the Feds to nab a ranch linked to Pablo Escobar and the bank accounts of some Wall Street fraudsters. The story has a mind-numbing number of appalling stories, including a minister having cash from collections taken and a couple that had the misfortune to be carrying cash to buy a used car when pulled over threatened with felony charges and having their kids placed in foster care unless they signed over the funds. And don’t kid yourself that this practice is mainly about stopping criminals:

Yet only a small portion of state and local forfeiture cases target powerful entities. “There’s this myth that they’re cracking down on drug cartels and kingpins,” Lee McGrath, of the Institute for Justice, who recently co-wrote a paper on Georgia’s aggressive use of forfeiture, says. “In reality, it’s small amounts, where people aren’t entitled to a public defender, and can’t afford a lawyer, and the only rational response is to walk away from your property, because of the infeasibility of getting your money back.” In 2011, he reports, fifty-eight local, county, and statewide police forces in Georgia brought in $2.76 million in forfeitures; more than half the items taken were worth less than six hundred and fifty dollars. With minimal oversight, police can then spend nearly all those proceeds, often without reporting where the money has gone.

To illustrate, one of the few cases in Stillman’s article that actually had a connection to drugs was that of a couple in their late 60s where the 31 year old son still lived at home and sold $20 worth of marijuana three times to an undercover cop. For this, the police tried to take the home even though the son had no ownership of the home and the father had suffered a stroke and had just been diagnosed with cancer.

As news reports of some abuses emerged in the 1990s, Congress voted in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act in 2000. but that change appears to have curtailed bad behavior only at the Federal level.

Stillman points out that some states, such as Maine and Missouri, don’t allow the local police forces to hang on to the property but requires them to turn it over to another entity (North Carolina is the only state where civil forfeiture is prohibited). But the ones that allow the police the most latitude to use seized assets like Texas, Virginia, and Georgia, have seen the most rapacious police behavior. Some examples:

In some Texas counties, nearly forty per cent of police budgets comes from forfeiture….. In Oklahoma, a Caddo County district attorney hired a private company, Desert Snow L.L.C., to train a local drug-interdiction task force. Although the company’s contractors were not certified law officers, they reportedly interrogated drivers and took up to twenty-five per cent of the seized cash, even in cases where no contraband was present…. In Hunt County, Texas, I found officers scoring personal bonuses of up to twenty-six thousand dollars a year, straight from the forfeiture fund. In Titus County, forfeiture pays the assistant district attorney’s entire salary…

Scandals, too, emerge from the federal Equitable Sharing program, which allows local police to skirt state restrictions on the use of funds. In Bal Harbour, Florida, an upscale seaside village of thirty-three-hundred residents, a small vice squad ran a forfeiture network that brought in nearly fifty million dollars in just three years. The squad travelled around the country, helped to arrange money-laundering stings in far-flung cities, then divided the cash with the federal agencies involved. Last year, the Department of Justice shut down the operation, ordering the village to return millions in cash. But much of it had already been spent: on luxury-car rentals and first-class plane tickets to pursue stings in New York, New Jersey, California, and elsewhere; on a hundred-thousand-dollar police boat; and on a twenty-one-thousand-dollar drug-prevention beach party.

And as the Bal Harbour example attests, the better-off are sometimes the targets:

AIn the midst of festivities one evening in late May, 2008 [at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit], forty-odd officers in black commando gear stormed the gallery…One young woman who had fallen only to her knees told me that a masked figure screamed at her, “Bitch, you think you’re too pretty to get in the mud?” A boot from behind kicked her to the ground. The officers…placed the guests under arrest. According to police records, the gallery lacked proper city permits for after-hours dancing and drinking, and an old ordinance aimed at “blind pigs” (speakeasies) and other places of “illegal occupation” made it a crime to patronize such a place, knowingly or not.

After lining the guests on their knees before a “prisoner processing table” and searching them, the officers asked for everyone’s car keys. Then the raid team seized every vehicle it could find…Forty-four cars were taken to government-contracted lots.

Most of those detained had to pay more than a thousand dollars for the return of their cars; if payment wasn’t made promptly, the car would become city property. The proceeds were divided among the offices of the prosecutors, police, and towing companies.

The ACLU sued and won in lower court; Detroit is appealing.

The worst is that there’s no ready defense against this sort of thing, save living and vacationing only in states that don’t allow police to use grab and keep the property of people they think they can get away with victimizing. The case that Stillman uses as the backbone of her story took years to be fought and then resulted in a settlement by the police. Other attorneys say there are “affirmative defenses” but this area of the law is highly specialized and very few attorneys know it.

You need to read this piece in full. Stillman has done an admirable job in describing this appalling practice. And don’t even think of driving in East Texas.

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72 comments

  1. Klassy!

    Did you mean to write Pablo rather than Pepe Escobar? I think NC has colonized my mind. When I saw this story I thought “this will be a link at NC”.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks, fixed.

      Yes, the rule of law stuff is so bad I can’t not post on it. The police and security state news is now diverting media attention from all the bank dodgy dealings.

      1. Waking Up

        When the level of “lawlessness” comes from the highest level of government (Obama administration, Supreme Court) such that the truly egregious crimes aren’t prosecuted (mortgage fraud, bank fraud, election fraud, etc.), then it is no wonder that level of behavior is reflected at all levels by our “lawmakers”.

        Thanks for all the research you do Yves.

  2. Skeptic

    LAPDog cop serving and protecting:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsX9aFlFNug

    What I find shocking is that this cop would act like this knowing that video capability is all around these days. Indicates to me that she knows there will be only phony discipline, if that, and that more and more the cops and enforcers are being giving the word: “Take the gloves off!”

    1. Crazy Horse

      Why should we be surprised that the foot soldiers emulate their superiors—- the Jamie Dimons of the world who used scams like MERS to loot billions and transfer the dregs onto the public debt rolls? Let’s keep our eye on the ball. There are only so many cells available in Guantanamo.

  3. timotheus

    These seizures are done openly, but anyone with a working knowledge of criminal procedures (i.e. defense attorneys or social workers) can tell you that cops often hoover up people’s cash and valuables during searches, especially when they are undocumented foreigners and don’t have bank accounts. The cash stashes are usually quite large, and it’s all just there for the taking. Try going to the local precinct to file THAT accusation. Another reason why NC is spot on to say that one should NEVER talk to the police for any reason and also should not permit them into one’s domicile. If they come to the door, step outside and listen politely, say no, and make them leave.

  4. Jim Haygood

    ‘Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords.’

    … which goes to show that the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, signed into law by Richard Nixon, is the root of all evil, or at least most of it.

    With 43 years of perspective, we can assert that the War on Drugs probably did more to destroy constitutional rights than any other single factor.

    Since 9/11, the War on Terrorism and its attendant phenomena of wholesale spying and government secrecy are giving the old War on Drugs a run for the money in demolishing what remains of the constitutional piñata, as a state-level revolt makes a mockery of the absurd harshness of federal cannabis prohibition.

    Civil forfeiture cannot be ‘reformed’ except by recognizing that the Fourth Amendment ought to strictly prohibit seizing property absent criminal charges. This isn’t going to happen. Time to wake up and admit that there’s been a silent coup d’etat in this country. The constitution has been de facto repealed. Having a copy of it on your person or in your vehicle makes you a militia-member suspect.

    You have been warned, comrade …

    1. scott

      At least the cops in Tijuana back in the ’80s were just after money. The difference between the US and the third world was that, until the last decade, you could trust the cops here. Heaven help you if you need directions.

  5. Bobito

    The reality in contemporary USA is that the most dangerous people most ordinary people ever encounter are so-called law enforcement officers, who represent a constant threat of physical violence, theft, and unwarranted arrest. The only remedy for most people is to minimize contact with these thugs, as legal recourse is available only to those with lots of resources (and not only monetary resources).

    Time for another terrorism alert.

  6. Sam Kanu

    This isnt just immoral or illegal – its also a contravention of generally accepted standards of human rights protection against collective punishment. Collective punishment is for example, as described in the article, seizing the parents home, evicting everybody and rendering the entire family homeless, just because a child broke the law.

    if something like this is done in wartime for example, its actually a war crime:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Geneva_Convention

    So why should a government be meting out collective punishment to its OWN people in civil situations? This beastly behavior. Shocking. Unnacceptable in a civilized country.

    1. Massinissa

      Civilized country?

      What makes you think a rogue warfare state founded on the displacement of native peoples can ever be ‘civilized’?

        1. Dave

          Well said, every country indeed. Some people still think we are the only bad actors on the world stage.

  7. from Mexico

    I don’t see how Stillman’s stilted and one-eyed view of the problem is helpful. From where I’m sitting, and given my experiences, she is part of the problem, and not the solution.

    The creeping police empire and the destruction of civil rights is not only a bipartisan effort, but an effort promoted by those who hail from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Both extremes of the partisan and ideological divide view civil rights as an issue to be invoked only when it is their sacred cow being gorged. Otherwise, they declare no foul. With these off and on “civil libertarians” there are no universal or transcendent civil rights principles at work, only partisan and ideological skirmishes. Recent polling regarding the Security and Surveillance State (SS) and its privacy rights violations provides a stunning example of this, privacy rights abuses being a problem for many only when a president of the opposing party occupies the White House.

    And this is where we find Stillman. What Stillman does is what is called lying by omission. How is it possible for Stillman to have omitted one of the most famous cases of illegal and immoral police seizures to have occurred in the last five years, that involving the Gibson Guitar Company? It was a national news story, and Reason TV did this article and documentary film on the case:

    “The Great Gibson Guitar Raid: Months Later, Still No Charges Filed”
    http://reason.com/blog/2012/02/23/the-great-gibson-guitar-raid-months-late

    Here we see Andrea Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) channeling Richard Nixon when she proclaims that “it’s not up to Gibson to decide which laws…they want to respect.”

    None of this, of course, is to argue that the right is any less blinkered and one-eyed than Stillman is, as this article from National Review makes clear:

    “The Gibson Raid: Much to Fret About”
    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/278379/gibson-raid-much-fret-about-pat-nolan

    So what we find is that on the Hitler right we have the law and order crusaders, and on the Stalinist left we have the save the elephants and rain forests crusaders, who have also morphed into law and order crusaders. Neither has any vision beyond their own narrow, parochial interests and ideological conceits. Neither would hesitate a New York minute to sacrifice our civil liberties on the altar of their holy causes. And both make a mockery out of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s wise counsel that “the means must be as pure as the end, that in the long run of history, immoral destructive means cannot bring about moral and constructive ends.”

    1. Mary St Claire

      Have you seen pictures of clear cutting old trees in Asia? It’s like the Sneetches on acid. Corporate America will gently rape places like Africa, stealing the water to sell Coca Cola or to grab wood, and plunder the living hell out of everything while raging civil wars kill untold millions in the background. Wood is a valuable, precious, natural resource. Gibson has a long and non-romantic history too of just a company trying to sell units. Currently, it is an awful place to work at, by most public accounts. Guitar companies should be responsible for harvesting sustainable woods. Nothing wrong with poplar or pine for an axe.

      1. Jim Haygood

        From the Reason article:

        With military precision, the federal officers surrounded the building, donned flak jackets and helmets, readied their weapons, burst in, and forced terrified employees out at gunpoint.

        Even granting for purposes of discussion that Gibson committed serious environmental crimes, how does this justify an armed raid? Are a bunch of guitar builders really going to haul out Uzis from under their workbenches and shoot back?

        Or are you suggesting that the appropriate punishment for environmental crimes is for low-level employees to get their faces stomped as a pre-trial sanction?

        1. Montanamaven

          Here is another article in the Wall Street Journal “Rise of the Warrior Cop”. Even the Dept. of Education has a SWAT team. There are far too many laws and regulations that allow the intimidation and arrest of Americans for crimes they have no idea that they committed. Then add to that the 32 Billion in military equipment handed out by the federal government since 2002 to local police and the result is innocent people being terrorized and killed. Yes, some are guilty of small crimes like keeping a wild animal, but using a SWAT team to get Giggles the Fawn or raid a Gibson Guitar factory is just wrong. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323848804578608040780519904.html

        2. F35 Welfare

          The police state does everything at gunpoint these days. Raiding farms, evicting people, the homeless, hospital services, health and human services. A form letter to Gibson management about suspected illegal wood just wouldn’t do in the War of Terror, when the tools for overeaching aggression are built and funded they are used.

          1. from Mexico

            Yep, the War on Terror seems to be the ticket these days, a surefire method to loosen the purse strings as these law enforcement agencies belly up to the public trough.

            On March 5, 2008 Benito A. Perez, chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, gave testimony before the U.S House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources regarding “Poaching American Security: Impacts to Illegal Wildlife Trade.”

            Perez begins his testimony by talking about the threat illegal wildlife trade poses to endangered species. “Trade and trafficking have played a major role in pushing such species as elephants, tigers, rhinos and sea turtles to the brink of extinction,” he testified. He stressed the role of “poachers, middlemen and retailers” who “enjoy the opportunity to reap significant monetary gain.” A shahtoosh shawl, for instance, which “requires the slaughter of three to five Tibetan antelope,” can “fetch as much as $19,000.” The retail value of the parts (bone, skin, teeth, claws and skull) of an adult male tiger, he observed, can total over $70,000.

            But the threat hardly stops there. According to Perez, the “detailed planning, significant financial support, sophisticated forgery and alteration of permits and certifications, and international management of shipments” now place wildlife traffickers in the same category as other organized crime syndicates such as the drug cartels. “We have encountered clearly identified ‘organized crime’ elements in some Service cases,” Perez asserts. Some wildlife smugglers have “professed ties” to the “Russian Mafia.”

            But Perez saves his trump card for last, at which time he raises the specter of terrorism. “None of the Service investigations show a definitive link between the illegal wildlife trade and terrorism,” he warns. But “other witnesses…may well provide greater insight into the nexus between illegal wildlife trade and instability within other nations.”

            Russian Mafiosos and terrorists, however, must be in short supply. For Fish and Wildlife agents have been forced to find a new threat to endangered species and national security — those dreaded domestic guitar manufacturers.

            It’s a truly fact-free world that the Fish and Wildlife Service agent lives in. Terrorist, Russian Mafioso or legitimate businessperson, in Fish and Wildlife’s loony dictatorship of virtue they’re all one and the same.

            1. skippy

              Well… if you br]utilize their logic ie. clean air – water act, safe food and drugs, O-bot health, no kid left behind securitzed charter school, etc, etc… it bloody obviuous[!!!]~~~

              Skippy… “THE WAR ON TERROR” equates too (fill in the blank) _________

      2. MRW

        Well, they’re cutting old trees here (Georgia) so that the UK can have them made into wood chips to ship to England to burn in power stations instead of coal in order to reduce climate change and reduce CO2 emissions. Nothing you can say about it, either. This is private property.

        “Renewable energy: Burning US trees in UK power stations”
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22630815

  8. Sleeper

    Please folks we have a two tier justice system -

    Those that can pay and those who are conected to power receive one sort of justice

    And the rest oh well

    And in many places ordinary people have only two choices -

    Surrender, plead guilty, lose your job and begin a marginal life.

    Or fight, gain some small gratification. lose your life.

    1. nobody

      No, it’s a three-tiered justice system. Those with power–real power–are generally exempt from from the so-called justice system altogether.

  9. sd

    I’m starting to feel like American society is infected with greed, as if greed is a disease like small pox.

    1. Massinissa

      “as if Greed is a disease like the Bubonic Plague”

      Fixed it for you. Smallpox isnt infectious enough.

  10. Massinissa

    Police are just thugs with guns sanctioned by the state. Most of them are no better than well paid gangsters. With a few exceptions of course: There are always exceptions to this sort of thing. But the generalization is still largely accurate.

    By the way, in Texas, if a policeman tries to steal your property, are you legally able to shoot him? Because if not, whats the point of those Texas laws where you can shoot people if they take your property?

    1. jonboinAR

      I’ve had a number of encounters with police in my time, usually for speeding. Other times I’ve needed their help. In my experience and by anecdote of people I’ve known, while there’s truth to what you say, you also exaggerate some. They can be thugs. I know people that have been hurt by the cops. They, the police, have been given powers, and, as humans, they will abuse them. They are also helpful and, at times, very necessary. Maybe the laws have gone too far in giving them latitude and need to be reevaluated. But the police in general are a lot more than just a bunch of thugs.

      1. SubjectivObject

        I’m offended by the likes of oppoligists like you.

        The people who are closest to what is going, who have unambiguous evidence of what goes on, on are the police themselves. The fact that they, all those good/nice ones, eh?, never create their own opprobrium, risk their own gainful income necks (if only after the fashion they enthusiastically subjugate OWS participants) against such practices, or support ANY curtailment of unjust powers, just verifies that outside the comfortable protections and prerogative of state power, they are whimps.

        Catch a clue; it is the sanctioned, supported, tolerated, aided, and abetted abuse of state power that convicts them all.

  11. diptherio

    How the f is this constituional? Isn’t this takings, straight-up? Didn’t any of those Detroit art aficionados have enough to hire an attorney?

    I thought I was already cynical about our law enforcement agencies. Yowza…

    1. Massinissa

      Constitution?

      When did America’s Stasi ever care about a ‘Constitution’? That kind of thing only applies in sissy foreign countries where people have things like inviolable rights and civil liberties. Those kinds of effeminate European things dont apply in ‘Murica, because we are exceptionally fascist. ‘Murica fuck yeah!

    2. Massinissa

      Constitution?

      When did America’s Stasi ever care about a ‘Constitution’? That kind of thing only applies in sissy foreign countries where people have things like inviolable rights and civil liberties. Those kinds of effeminate European things dont apply in ‘Murica, because we are exceptionally fascist. ‘Murica f**k yeah!

    3. anon y'mouse

      this response proves that you obviously were not raised in the ghetto.

      no shame…not all of us can be so privileged.

  12. Former Military

    Corrupt agents? Gifts of wine, money and homes? Sounds about right. Need to find out who did Sunnry Sheu. An important neo-liberal move from Bubba Clinton was to ramp up the prison industrial complex by funding the hell out of social control systems. Note that this was done at the same time the crew was looseing the reins on bankstas, and plunder Inc.

  13. Ché Pasa

    After the Revolution comes, maybe we can do something about this and all the other police state tactics most Americans are either unaware of or inured to. Until then, however, this situation is not likely to change for the better.

    These asset seizure policies and practices have been in place for decades and decades. They form part of the way certain targeted individuals and communities are kept under control by authority. That control is essential for the preservation of “order.” We know who benefits, but most Americans are deliberately kept in the dark about the victims.

    Law enforcement is not about to voluntarily give up these or any other tools of control they have at their disposal. Instead, they will demand — and probably get — more of them. Neither courts nor elected representatives have shown any more interest in curbing abuses by the police state than they have in shutting down the domestic surveillance state which helps to feed the police state. From their perspective, why should they? What we call “abuse” and even “illegal,” they call “protection.”

    So long as the courts and electeds believe they are being protected by these and other means, they will support them.

    1. Central Park Cancer

      Offering our labor to our own Government, but having to go through Booze, L3, CACI, TATA, Kelly, Infosys, HJF, GD, Becthel, Northrup, et al privatizes and segregates the abuse and degradation of the American worker. Which is why Government management loves their use, one hand washing the other. It would be a stretch to say our own terror cells originate in DC think tanks, but not by much.

    2. jrs

      Actually I see the issue as addressable, if there was the will … yea, I know, that’s the rub, eh?

      Since it’s mostly a state thing, that means it’s addressable on the state level, which by it self makes it *much* easier than taking on the Feds. Possibly in some states that have it addressible through state initiatives (direct democracy not corrupt representatives). Sure those profiting from the stolen loot would fight hard against such attempts to reign it in, but when is that ever not the case?

      1. Ché Pasa

        By all means. There are a number of organizations working on it as we speak. They’ve been highlighting the problem for years, but so far laws haven’t changed much in response. Doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t, but it does mean a long, protracted struggle ahead.

    3. Downunderer

      Decades and decades, yes. I tried to fight it in 1983, as a Councilman in a small town in Washington State. And lost.

      We were asked to join the “Interlocal Drug Fund Agreement” to shared the seizure profits among the several police jurisdictions in the county.

      I objected to the Bill of Rights violations, and introduced a motion recognizing that the real drug problem was caused by drug misuse and avid customers rather than drug suppliers. I pointed out that if we could snap our fingers and kill every drug dealer instantly, a new network would spring up overnight, but that if all the users quit, the dealers would have to find new careers, since drug “pushing” accounted for very little consumption, if any.

      I wanted to spend the money on youth drug education (which I did as much as I could in my chemistry classes) and recreational facilities.

      I ran into fierce opposition from another councilman as a “friend of the dopers”, and ended up being preached against in local pulpits. After months of political maneuvering, I was finally confronted by an audience that included the whole school board and the principals of all the schools in the district, essentially demanding that I give in and let the vote go their way. I’m happy they gave me a face-saving out, at least, with a minor change in the document we voted on.

      It is only the smallest satisfaction that my main opponent died in jail for the murder of his second “wife” (really his brother’s daughter) in the course of building a picture of victimization by my “doper friends”. Which is why it’s such a long story, as it includes the entrapment of another councilman on drug charges (he was single, she was an undercover lady cop called in by the Mayor). He was turned loose by the jury, and not too happy to vote for the sherrif’s proposal either.

      We have been going down this road for a long time. I left.

  14. Gold Price

    The Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm that fights civil forfeiture abuse nationwide, represented the Caswells in defense of their property and their constitutional rights. On January 24, 2013, a federal judge dismissed the forfeiture action against them ruling that the government engaged in “gross exaggeration” of the evidence and did not have authority to forfeit the property. The judge also held that the Caswells were themselves innocent owners of the property that took all reasonable actions to prevent crime on their property.

  15. petridish

    The extent to which the US has come to depend on poor, powerless people to keep the machine running is stunning.

    They are stolen from to fund “law enforcement,” incarcerated for the profit of the prison-industrial complex, defrauded to support the financial “services” industry, forced to buy worthless insurance policies to keep the failing “healthcare” industry flush. Their desperation keeps the military supplied with fresh blood and corporations supplied with subsistence wage workers. Irrational, relentlessly-stoked fear of them, domestic and foreign, keeps the wheels of the security state turning and the profits churning.

    It’s as if powerless, disenfranchised humans are, at this time in history, the most important American national resource. And the machine cannot keep running smoothly without a steady, growing supply. The writing is on the wall.

  16. Dr Duh

    This is worth watching, former narcotics officer Barry Cooper talking about this very topic. He now dedicates himself to teaching people how to avoid getting busted for marijuana. His videos are pretty amusing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmWRCivauBk

    It is my belief that we need to forge a new consensus around supporting the *entire* Bill of Rights.

    The bipartisan support for the Amash amendment shows this is possible. The ‘right’ is out of power and suddenly cognizant that they might find themselves on the wrong end of state power. If the ‘left’ were willing to compromise on the Second Amendment, we might be able to raise a big tent against all of these abuses.

  17. craazyman

    Faaaaaak

    From rock to rock, we stepped along the cliffs
    Then halted, when we came to the last rise
    And looking over, saw a vast pit red
    With the glow of a thousand fires, bright blood
    wetted the ground around huge piles of steel,
    and glass, wrecks of cars and boats and jewels,
    piled into huge mounds that rose like hills,
    and descending down we first heard the screams
    of souls broken beneath the massive weight,
    and saw the blood around the piles came from
    their mouths. “What hell is this?” I asked my guide,
    Who hurried us along the path above.
    “These souls are those who made the law a snare
    and broke the lives of those who paid their way,
    deceiving and corrupt they bear the weight
    of the misery and hell they made above,
    All that they sought through fraud they now possess,
    forever. Their tounges were cut and now they
    cannot speak, the profit from all their lies.”
    Lit by fires their faces slowly turned, watching
    us overhead until a demon speared
    them with a lance thrust in an arm or chest.

      1. craazyman

        You mean you don’t recognize it? :)

        faaaaak, it’s Dr. professor Delerious T. Tremens from the University of Magonia Department of Classical Literature.

        YOu read some Dante in 10-beat English translation just to crank yourself up and then you start thinking about the Post and what punishment the malefactors deserve and you see it in your mind moving and lit up like a dream. Then you ride the bus and crack yourself assembling it in words . Tnen you get to work and spend a while writing it down — using the beat da-naaa-da-naaa-da-naaa-da-naaa-da-naaa works for a few lines anyway –, wasting time in your office before you say “Shit I have to work”.

        faaaak, the problem is people don’t think Hell is real. Or if they do, they’re so destroyed by life they cease to care. They think it’s just a joke or they’re ready for it, come what may. It must be this way for some reason that we cannot know. Or else it would ruin something that we cannot see or perceive or even understand. That makes it hard, doesn’t it?

  18. Robert

    That Fatman would wants to your president, was the King of civil forfeiting. How can anyone sue money?

  19. Idiot

    Most politicians love the police and they run on getting tough on crime, top lawyers sometimes publically support the death penalty. The gentry are horrified by a rape, the corporation blights the entire city, and they still don’t get it. We are being led and followed by idiots.

  20. westphalia

    The quotes from the Sheriffs’ Association rep are revealing – police departments cling to this practice in order to fund the very sort of cartoonish militarization that is now considered the minimum status quo by every blinkered cop in the country. I suppose this is the sort of “entrepreneurial” attitude privatization advocates cherish.

    Another interesting point is the civil vs. criminal distinction that permits and encourages these sorts of star chamber practices by law enforcement. It reminds me of a case here in NY that hasn’t gotten as much attention as it should – the imprisonment of legal activist Jerry Koch on “civil” contempt charges for refusing to cooperate in what is pretty transparently an attempt by the government to intimidate and silence political radicals:

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/16280-double-jeopardy-new-york-activist-subpoenaed-for-secret-grand-jury-%E2%80%93-again

  21. harry

    Reminds me of driving through West Texas in ’96. I got stopped in the “town” of Querna. I say “town” because the only buildings I could see was a billboard and a hut behind it. Behind the hut was the police car that stopped me. I had been going at 60 miles an hour before I hit the “urban” district. But there wasnt much space to slow down between the billboard and the hut. The policeman radioed the judge and the fine was assessed at $120. I didnt have it in cash so I had to go with the policeman (in his car) to the nearest atm. This was 45 minutes drive away.

    While in the car I got chatting to the policeman who was quite friendly. I noticed the very substantial weaponery in the rack behind his head and said were they really necessary. He told me “we keep the big guns in the trunk”. I asked why he needed such heavy caliber weapons, and he told me

    “Sometimes Mexican drug runners come through here and we tell ‘em to stop. And sometimes they dont wanna stop. Then we stop ‘em”.

    Anyway, this kind of taxing of out of staters has been a going on in Texas for a long time now.

    A word to the wise. If you have a choice between saying you are British and saying you are a New Yorker – anywhere west of the Hudson – go for British. Frankly you are better off claiming to be a Nazi concentration camp guard than a New Yorker. America seems to really hate NYC.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Supposedly in the bad old days of the Mississippi freedom summer (1963), it was New York and Massachusetts plates that would earn you a KKK patrol on your tail.

      If they’d had any sense, they would have added New Jersey to their shit list. But Jerseyans weren’t into social activism (summer meant the Shore), and the good ol’ boys weren’t quite clear on where the hell it was anyway.

      1. Harry

        I did have Jersey plates, and they did stop me remarkably frequently. The Jersey plates were a red rag. Thats the downside to renting cars from Atlantic City.

  22. alloppedout

    http://perspicuity.net/sd/pub-choice.html

    Website of an old friend writing no these matters 15 years ago. Leon had the idea that ‘vagueness’ had a great deal to do with laws like this coming to be threats to liberty. There are many stories like this on matters that should have been nipped in the bud by vigilant public scrutiny. We just don’t have that. We are feeble and the coming return to slavery is nigh.

  23. ScottS

    In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stencilled with the words “This Used To Be a Drug Dealer’s Car, Now It’s Ours!”

    Yeah. Are cops anything other than mobsters with uniforms?

    1. jonboinAR

      Well, yes, they are, but I don’t think anyone’s in the mood to hear that today on this thread.

  24. ScottS

    Another case involves a monthly social event that had been hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. In the midst of festivities one evening in late May, 2008, forty-odd officers in black commando gear stormed the gallery and its rear patio, ordering the guests to the ground. Some in attendance thought that they were the victims of an armed robbery.

    According to Gangleader For A Day cops have been doing this to “gang” parties in black neighborhoods forever. Good to know that the police have become so egalitarian.

  25. TR

    Anyone know what boycott means?

    Gerald Celente said,”When people lose everything & have nothing left to lose,they lose it.”

  26. rip current

    Law to Clean Up ‘Nuisances’ Costs Innocent People Their Homes

    The idea behind forfeiture is simple enough: drug kingpins, embezzlers, racketeers and other offenders should not be able to keep the financial fruits of illegal acts. Prosecutors often ask a judge to seize the money, vehicles or real estate of a person convicted of a crime.

    But authorities can also use civil law to seize assets before the criminal case is adjudicated or, as with Rochelle Bing, even when no charges are brought against the owner.

    Doing so offers prosecutors considerable advantages. Unlike the “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal law, prosecutors seeking civil forfeitures face a much lower standard. Usually, they need only prove that a “preponderance of evidence” connects the property — not its owner — to a crime. Technically, the property — not the owner — is named as the defendant.

    Over the last two decades, forfeitures have evolved into a booming business for police agencies across the country, from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to small-town sheriff’s offices. Although there is no single tally of all this activity – the information is buried in the budgets, court records and annual reports of thousands of individual agencies — the available data makes clear that billions of dollars in cash, cars, real estate and other assets are being confiscated nationwide every year via civil forfeitures.

    One measure is the growth of a program in which federal law enforcement officials seize property on behalf of local authorities in exchange for a share of the proceeds. In 2000, officials racked up $500 million in forfeitures. By 2012, that amount rose to $4.2 billion, an eightfold increase.

    http://www.propublica.org/article/law-to-clean-up-nuisances-costs-innocent-people-their-homes

  27. Brooklin Bridge

    Dear Tourist Bureau,

    My spouse and I are ever so excited about our up-coming six week vacation where we will finally be together with all eleven of our children (my goodness they have expensive tastes).

    We wanted to know if your state practices this appalling and barbaric law we heard about called, civil forfeiture, that is apparently being horribly abused by a large number of police forces across the nation to scam tourists and others from their personal belongings. Naturally we don’t ask if your state is among the abusers; after all who would admit to such, only if the law is in effect, that is, if your police force can take people’s possessions on suspicion alone without due legal process as provided for in the constitution of our wonderful country for which at least one of our forefathers have sacrificed all in every single war ever fought.

    If we do not hear from you we will assume that this law may be applicable in your state and we will, of course go elsewhere though very reluctantly as we so looked forward to visiting you new gambling casinos once we have the kids safely off on that shopping spree we promised them with Grams (forget to mention she’s agreed to come along!!). If you could reply, however, it would be most appreciated as we would want to write to our travel club and make sure that every last one of the 30,000 members was told that our fears about your state were only a false alarm… After all, fair is fair.

    Thank you so much for your attention to this matter,

    Sincerely,

    Mr. and Ms. Terrified To Come

  28. RBHoughton

    Looks like an improved form of prize-taking but without the need to establish a connection with the enemy. I suppose its good for police recruitment – good salary, benefits and windfall income, woohoo.

  29. Kunst

    Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

    No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

    Never mind.

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