In America, your belongings can be confiscated by the police without warrant or evidence as proceeds of a crime, and then the government sues your possessions (not you), in lawsuits like "Township of East Bumblefuck vs $50,000 in $100 bills." Read the rest
US police seized $4.5 billion through civil asset forfeiture (through which police can take money and valuables away from citizens without charging anyone with any crimes) in 2014; in the same period, the FBI estimates that burglars accounted for $3.9B in property losses. Read the rest
Governor Jerry Brown has signed the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which "bars any state law enforcement agency or other investigative entity from compelling a business to turn over any metadata or digital communications—including emails, texts, documents stored in the cloud—without a warrant. It also requires a warrant to track the location of electronic devices like mobile phones, or to search them." Read the rest
The military surveillance devices known as "Dirtboxes" have been in secret operation for more than a decade, tracking citizens' locations and intercepting their calls, breaking the encryption on hundreds of calls at once. Read the rest
In July 2014 the St. Clair County Drug Task Force raided medical marijuana patient Ginnifer Hency's home and "took everything," including a car, TV sets, a ladder, her children's cellphones and iPads, and even her vibrator. The charges were dropped against Hency (who uses weed to relieve pain from multiple sclerosis) because she was complying with Michigan's medical marijuana laws, but county prosecutors decided to keep her family's property because they claimed civil forfeiture laws allowed them to. Hency said a prosecutor told her, "I can still beat you in civil court. I can still take your stuff."
But a recent Michigan Supreme Court ruling on medical marijuana means Hency's case is "no longer viable," said St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling, and they will return Hency's property.
From Detroit Free Press:
The Supreme Court ruling last week clarified when caregivers and users can use their medical marijuana certification as a defense or immunity if charged with a marijuana-related crime. It was the court’s ninth medical marijuana ruling since voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Marihuana Act in 2008.
“We would have to have specific evidence on those items in order to overcome that burden now that we did not have to show before,” Wendling said.
Hency’s lawyer, Michael Komorn, told the Free Press the decision “does not eliminate the horror of what they’ve had to deal with the last year."
[via] Read the rest
Lex is a drug-sniffing police dog. His owner trained Lex by giving him a treat every time he alerted, whether or not Lex was right. Is that a good way to train drug-sniffing dogs? Maybe not for innocent people who get stripped searched when they are falsely identified as drug carriers, but it's great for police departments that use the dogs to enrich themselves with civil asset forfeitures.
Radley Balko of the Washington Post writes about how Federal Courts are making matters ever worse.
Read the rest
The problem here is that invasive searches based on no more than a government official’s hunch is precisely what the Fourth Amendment is supposed to guard against. Unfortunately, the way the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this issue not only doesn’t account for the problem, but also has given police agencies a strong incentive to ensure that drug dogs aren’t trained to act independently of their handler’s suspicions. A dog prone to false alerts means more searches, which means more opportunities to find and seize cash and other lucre under asset forfeiture policies. In fact, a drug dog’s alert in and of itself is often cited as evidence of drug activity, even if no drugs are found, thus enabling police to seize cash, cars and other property from motorists. For example, I’ve interviewed dog trainers who have told me that drug dogs can be trained to alert only when there are measurable quantities of a drug — to ignore so-called “trace” or “remnant” alerts that aren’t cause for arrest.
Air fresheners, rosaries, and pro-police car stickers give cops a justifiable reason to pull over a car, ruled the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals. The ruling was based on a 2011 Texas case in which a police officer pulled over a car that had those items on display. The officer suspected the occupants were transporting drugs. The officer search the car and didn't find drugs, but he found cash, which he confiscated. The driver was sent to jail. Read the rest
Authorities in Oklahoma are fighting new legislation designed to address abuses of civil asset forfeiture. And for good reason – the authorities enjoy the money and property they steal from innocent people and are angry that someone is threatening to yank their snouts out of the trough. Read the rest
"Yesterday, two landmark reforms took effect in Montana and New Mexico," says Nick Sibilla. "Both states now require a criminal conviction for civil forfeiture, while New Mexico went even further and banned the practice outright." Read the rest
Civil asset forfeiture is way for police to confiscate people's property and share the bounty with prosecutors' offices, without the tiresome hassle of due process. Read the rest
After at least four years of lying about its rubberstamp takedown process for prison authorities and omitting prison takedowns from its transparency reports, Facebook is finally bringing a crumb of due process to its treatment of prisoners. Read the rest
The takeaway from this story: never consent to a warrantless search.
On April 15 a DEA agent boarded a passenger train in Albuquerque and began grilling people about where they were going and why. Joseph Rivers, a 22-year-old black man, told the agent he was going to LA to make a music video. The agent asked Rivers if he could search his bags, and Rivers, bless his naive heart, consented. The agent didn't find drugs or weapons, but he found $16,000 in cash, so he took it, simply because a black man with that much money must be a drug dealer.
Joline Gutierrez Krueger of the Albuquerque Journal writes,
Rivers was left penniless, his dream deferred.
“These officers took everything that I had worked so hard to save and even money that was given to me by family that believed in me,” Rivers said in his email. “I told (the DEA agents) I had no money and no means to survive in Los Angeles if they took my money. They informed me that it was my responsibility to figure out how I was going to do that.”
Other travelers had witnessed what happened. One of them, a New Mexico man I’ve written about before but who asked that I not mention his name, provided a way for Rivers to get home, contacted attorneys – and me.
“He was literally like my guardian angel that came out of nowhere,” Rivers said.
Joseph Rivers has a GoFundMe campaign to replace the $16,000. Read the rest
My parents just got back from a road-trip from Toronto to Florida, and used Dave Hunter's venerable Along Interstate-75 to find food and lodgings, pass the hours, and beat the speed-traps and civil forfeiture nightmares of America's great roadways. Read the rest
The Reagan era kicked off a project to dismantle social mobility and equitable justice. This trenchant, angry, gorgeous graphic zine launched in response.