Asset forfeiture is the process of law enforcement agents seizing property
from an individual during an arrest, and then a United States attorney
prosecutor successfully keeping it for the government’s own use
afterwards. Even if no conviction is garnered for the suspected crime
that led to the arrest, the seized property can be kept forever by the
government if the asset forfeiture case does not pan out in the suspect’s
favor. Where is the line drawn between collecting evidence for a criminal
investigation and Uncle Sam simply wanting to take your stuff? Recent
statistics suggest that it is blurring more and more by the year.
Between 1989 and 2010, about $12.6
billion worth of assets and property were collected through asset forfeiture.
If this already seems ludicrous to you, make certain you are sitting down
for these next facts. Within just one year’s timespan (2009 to 2010),
the value of property collected through asset forfeiture increased more
than 50%, totaling a yearly value equivalent to 600% of the amount in
taken 1989. In 2014, the number escalated even further and caught the
attention of every litigator within the country; in that year, the United
States government used asset forfeiture strategies and cases to collect
and keep about $4.5 billion of “suspect” property.
With such a high number value of property being seized and collected, people
cannot help but ask if law enforcement agents are still serving and protecting
the American people in asset forfeiture cases. The Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) claims burglars took just under $4 billion in property in 2014.
With this statistic in mind, the police are now taking and keeping more
assets than criminals. In Washington, D.C., the widespread use of suspicious
asset forfeitures has apparently gotten so bad that a class action lawsuit
has been filed against the city’s police department. The lawsuit
claims officers were seizing as little as $100 out of the pockets of people
on the street and calling it evidence of “drug money”.
Is America’s Statecraft on the Decline?
Beyond what you could arguably call a “typical” asset forfeiture
case, there has been a growing concern over what is known as “stop-and-seize”
(S&S) practices or events. During an S&S, police will stop a person
and take their property without even making an arrest at the end, and
without any hint at having a warrant. Some people argue that this is just
one of many indicators that the country’s statecraft, or the ability
to fairly and efficiently manage governmental affairs, is in decline,
as if it was headed back for the Wild West.
Our blog has discussed before the threat to the public’s wellbeing that money
forfeiture cases create. Police can bring in a drug sniffing dog, allege
that it picks up the scent of narcotics on money in your vehicle or home,
and take it then and there without making an arrest. If they seize less
than a few thousand dollars, the victim might decide that paying court
fees and spending hours or days at scheduled court dates is not worth
the trouble; after all, they might not get the money back, or even be
given the option. If they were coerced into signing a waiver that abandons
their right to the money, it can be gone for good. And just like that,
the police have added some extra revenue to their department, which brings
us to the next question on peoples’ minds.
What Motivates the Police in Stop-and-Seize Events?
Despite the troubling nature of asset forfeiture and how it may hint at
police force abuse, most of us still believe that most police officers
and United States attorneys are good people who do a good job, and that
they deserve higher pay. At the very least, most of us think that police
department funding could use an increase. This prevalent idea that the
police require or deserve more pay or larger budgets could be the greatest
underlying factor as to why asset forfeiture and stop-and-seizure is at
an all-time high.
S&S in particular is a fast way for a local police department to get
extra revenue straight into their coffers. Whatever is seized and not
returned can eventually be used for approved government spending that
rarely leaves the district. This means purchasing additional firearms,
newer office equipment, or stacking the yearly bonus funds. For this reason,
some law enforcement agents might be thinking they are doing the right
thing and helping out their communities, albeit by first helping out themselves
– and ignoring the fact that it is clearly a violation of personal
rights. Other lawmen might see themselves as a sort of a Robin Hood character,
above the law despite representing it and taking legal shortcuts despite
being hired to enforce the law to the letter.
Legal Help and More Information About Asset Forfeiture
As mentioned beforehand, civil asset forfeiture that verges into the territory
of legal theft carried out by the government is not a new problem. For
some more insight into the issue, you should check out an article published by
Armstrong Economics (click here) and another by
BloombergView (click here), each posted in November 2015. We also advise you to take some time and
check out our own
Nebraska Interstate Drug Stop Defense Book created by our Nebraska drug stop attorneys at the Berry Law Firm. In
it, you will find helpful information on how to protect your rights and
your property should you get stopped by highway patrol officers in Nebraska,
especially along Interstate 80 that travels clear across the state, east to west.
Of course, if you need legal help right away, such as would be the case
if your property has already been suspiciously seized by law enforcement,
you can always call us at
402.817.6550. With 80+ years of collective legal experience and a long history of successful
case results for our clients, we have become the go-to criminal defense team in Lincoln,
Omaha, and all of Nebraska.