The Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS) is the NYPD's huge database where it stores ownership information on the millions in New Yorkers' property it takes charge of every year (including about $68m in cash and counting), through evidence collection and asset forfeiture. Read the rest
ICE have become house-flippers, using the notorious and discredited "civil asset forfeiture" process to steal houses from people they say were involved in crime, then selling the houses to fund their operations, and more seizures of more houses. Read the rest
Civil asset forfeiture allows police departments to confiscate and keep property they claim results from criminal activity, without having to prove that any criminal activity took place -- this turned into a national scourge, until cops were stealing more from Americans than burglars, until the Obama administration shut down the DoJ's enabling program in 2015. Read the rest
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, having been thrown under the bus by Donald Trump, has clearly run out of fucks to give, and so now he's not only reviving the feel-good anti-drug program that convinced kids to take drugs, not only directing fed cops to arrest people who take weed in states where it's legal -- he's also calling for more civil asset forfeiture, that being the polite name for the widespread, illegal practice of cops stealing your stuff and selling it off to fund off-the-books spending on surveillance gear and other goodies. Read the rest
Hey, remember how Bill Clinton doubled down on the War on Drugs, perfecting Reagan's haphazard and shoddily made race-war into a well-oiled incarceration machine that turned America into the world's greatest incarcerator, a nation that imprisoned black people at a rate that exceeded Apartheid-era South Africa? Read the rest
It took four years, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has finally ruled in favor of 72 year old grandmother Elizabeth Young, whose house was seized by the Philadelphia District Attorney under asset forfeiture rules when her son was caught selling $140 worth of marijuana to undercover agents.
Under civil forfeiture rules, cops and DAs get to steal property suspected of being the proceeds of a crime, then they sue the inanimate objects. The owners of the objects can hire lawyers to represent their property, while the taxpayers foot the bill for the state's side of the suit. If the government wins, it gets to keep the property or sell it and pocket the proceeds.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court blasted the DA for the seizure and reminded the state's lawyers and cops that they can only invoke civil forfeiture when there is good reason to believe that the property's owner "knew of and agreed to the crimes" in question.
The cop who bought the marijuana from Young's son is currently serving a 3.5 year federal prison sentence for planting drugs on suspects.
Read the rest
Young is far from the only person to have her house seized by the Philadelphia D.A. for a minor drug crime that she didn't even commit. In 2013, Philadelphia police seized the house of Christos and Markela Sourovelis after their son was arrested for selling $40-worth of drugs outside of it.
The Sourovelis' sued, with assistance from the libertarian-leaning Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that has challenged asset forfeiture laws in several states.
Civil asset forfeiture is the bizarre American practice of seizing peoples' property without charging its owner: instead the property is charged with being the ill-gotten gains of a crime, and if the owner doesn't pay their property's legal bills, the police get to keep or sell the property. Read the rest
Since 2009, the Chicago Police Department has seized $72M worth of property from people who were not convicted of any crime, through the discredited civil forfeiture process, keeping $48M worth of the gains (the rest went to the Cook County prosecutor's office and the Illinois State Police) in an off-the-books, unreported slush fund that it used to buy secret surveillance gear. Read the rest
California police departments' license to steal cash from innocent people has been restricted, thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. Let's hope the federal government follows suit.
Nick Sibilla of The Institute for Justice says:
Read the rest
Since 1994, California state law has required a criminal conviction before real estate, vehicles, boats and cash under $25,000 could be forfeited to the government. But those requirements are completely missing under federal law. So California police could instead partner with a federal agency, take the property under federal law, and reap up to 80 percent of the proceeds.
To fix this, the new law requires a criminal conviction before agencies can receive forfeiture payments from the federal government on forfeited real estate, vehicles, boats and cash valued at under $40,000.
In the Bronx (and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere) when your belongings are seized as "evidence," it can be impossible to ever get them back, even if you're never charged with a crime. Read the rest
A USA Today investigation has discovered a network of paid informants working for Amtrak and nearly every US airline who illegally delve into passengers' travel records to find people who might be traveling with a lot of cash: these tip-offs are used by the DEA to effect civil forfeiture -- seizing money without laying any charges against its owner, under the rubric that the cash may be proceeds from drug sales. One Amtrak secretary was secretly paid $854,460 to raid her employer's databases for the DEA. Read the rest
The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has purchased several 'Electronic Recovery and Access to Data' devices to install in police cruisers for seizing funds from prepaid debit cards during roadside arrests. Read the rest
A police detective in Rock Falls, Illinois has been arrested for stealing more than $1,700 in cash found on the body of a man who died of a heroin overdose. Detective Sgt. Veronica Jaramillo, 43, was taken into police custody on May 17, 2016 by Illinois State Police and charged with theft and official misconduct. Read the rest
This week, Techdirt's Tim Cushing published a story about the Hancock County, IN Sheriff's Department officers who stole $240,000 under color of asset forfeiture. Read the rest
In a surprise move, the US Attorney General has ordered police departments to cease the practice of civil forfeiture (basically, stealing stuff and selling it) unless the forfeiture is related to a specific warrant or charge. Read the rest
Many states have passed laws limiting how much of your stuff the police can steal when they accuse you of a crime, but the Department of Justice has the solution for local cops: they will "adopt" a local seizure, making it federal and exempting it from state-level corruption controls. Read the rest
In "continuing education" seminars, cops are instructed to be on the lookout for people with nice stuff that can be easily resold, figure out a crime that those people might be guilty of, and tell the City Attorney so that that stuff can be grabbed through "civil forfeiture." Read the rest