One of the comments in a recent article I wrote on medical cannabis mentioned Civil Asset Forfeiture so I became curious about where Georgia ranked. It got a D-. Do you think the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies should have the right to seize your assets, including your bank accounts, when you have not been convicted of wrongdoing? The fact is, the IRS and other government agencies do this all of the time, and often without even a formal accusation of wrongdoing.
Make sure and read the free Ebook in PDF format called Policing For Profit- The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture
No wonder Decatur County Sheriff and President of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association Wiley Griffin said. “We want to make sure it’s correct and it doesn’t get to lead to the recreational use of marijuana. We are 100% opposed to that” By legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing it these sheriff’s would lose a major source of revenue. That is the problem when policing has a financial stake in drug arrests. Many innocent people pay the price and even when they prove their innocence the damage is done.
George Will wrote “Under state and federal law, police departments can seize and keep property that is suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime—or even charged—to permanently lose her cash, car, home, or other property. And according to a new report published by the Institute for Justice, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,” most state laws are written in such a way as to encourage police agents to pursue profit instead of seeking the neutral administration of justice. The report grades each state and the federal government on its forfeiture laws and other measures of abuse. The results are appalling: Six states earned an F and 29 states and the federal government received a grade of D.
If you have a few spare minutes I encourage you to watch this special investigation by the Washington Post on how police have abused this law and in essence have become highway robbers not unlike the Sheriff of Nottingham. Where is our Robin Hood?
In short, in the vast majority of states and at the federal level, the standard of proof required to forfeit an individual’s property is lower than the standard required to prove that the individual was guilty of the criminal activity that supposedly justified the forfeiture in the first place. Given this situation, it is not surprising that upwards of 80 percent of forfeitures occur absent a prosecution.
In September 2007, Chris Hunt was driving on I-75 through central Georgia on his way to see his mother in his hometown of Dublin. Lamar County sheriffs stopped Hunt, who owns a car detailing business, for speeding. Officers say they smelled burnt marijuana and alcohol in the car, discovered marijuana on the floor, and noted that Hunt had bloodshot eyes, all claims that Hunt denies. Upon finding $5,581, officers confiscated the cash over Hunt’s protests. He said the money was the weekend’s profits from his shop.
A canine later detected drug residue on the cash, a notoriously unreliable indicator of drug activity. The sheriffs did not find a testable amount of drugs, however, nor alcohol or any other contraband. Hunt was never charged with a crime. “It was my hard-earned cash,” said Hunt. “They had guns and badges and they just took it.” National Public Radio examined other federal forfeiture cases from Lamar County and found the same pattern—motorists without previous narcotics arrests stopped and their cash seized because officers claimed they could smell marijuana they could not find, the motorist acted nervous and police dogs alerted on the cash.
Hunt contacted an attorney to help get his money back and filed a claim in November 2007. In July 2009, he received half back as part of a negotiated settlement.
There are dozens of other reports including the seizure of an innocent elderly lady’s home in this ebook. I bet if the assets seized went into education or other budgets and not to the police budgets, they wouldn’t be quite so eager to falsely charge people or be so opposed to marijuana decriminalization.
Originally, the civil forfeiture laws were passed to make it easier for the government to stop drug traffickers, money launderers and tax evaders. As always, agents of the government, rather than being careful and judicious in the use of their new powers, quickly abused them. As Lord Acton warned, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.