Tuesday, September 8, 2015

State vs Federal, Budget vs Justice

California legislature is currently debating a reform of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws which, if signed into law, would mean “law enforcement would only be allowed to seize property and money if a property owner is convicted of a crime. The legislation also prohibits law enforcement agencies from transferring seized property and cash to the federal government.” This last sentence makes it very clear as to why the federal government would be so against such a reform;it would lose assets should this be passed. The federal government threatens California lawmakers with the fear of losing eligibility in the federal government’s Equitable Sharing Program, from which “California law enforcement agencies received more than $89.6 million.”

There are dissenters to this legislation even within California. Alice Dery, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, has made it clear that should the proposed legislation be passed, California law enforcement of all levels would not be eligible for the Equitable Sharing Program. Sean Hoffman, director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association, wrote that the reforms “will cripple the ability of law enforcement to forfeit assets from drug dealers when arrest and incarceration is an incomplete strategy for combating drug trafficking.”

If, as multiple reputable sources indicate, the new legislation will only result in a lower budget and worse ability to combat drug traffickers, then the answer is clear: do not pass the legislation. However, it has already passed, with a vote of 38-1, and the state Assembly is to debate the changes this week.

Let us not forget, however, that this legislation would help to prevent the unjust acquisition of private property. But does this legislation that would inspire inefficiency in an already bureaucratically-burdened system provide better for the common good than the current system? What the article ultimately presents is a choice: lose millions of dollars of federal funding and help to stop the unjust theft of private property, or keep millions of dollars and be able to more efficiently fight crimes?

Link to the website here


Brianna Panozzo said...
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Brianna Panozzo said...

The current civil asset forfeiture laws seem unjust to begin with- why should law enforcers be able to seize someone's property/money if they just have a "suspicion" that someone has committed a crime? Although I see some good intent here, to be able to stop drug trafficking quickly, etc, the practice in itself seems like guesswork, with a possibility of punishing innocent people.

However, this new law, which allows money and property to be taken only if someone is convicted of a crime, seems to me to be a more fair option. Innocent until proven guilty is our national court rule. Why are we allowed to punish anyone before a California jury has come to a consensus about conviction? This new law enforces this rule, which should be a natural right to Americans, as it is stated in the Constitution.

As Daniel stated, we are ultimately deciding whether losing money in order to stop the unjust theft of American assets it worth it. In my opinion, it generally is because even though we are losing money, this reform fosters American liberty and ensures that when we punish someone, it's for an appropriate reason, and not because police officers want to pad their paychecks this month.

If the federal government cares more about losing money then about what is more fair to its people (or suspected criminals) then they really need to sort out their priorities. Since when did we become a nation that worries more about padding the budget then about ensuring the given liberties of our citizens?

Scott Chow said...
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Scott Chow said...

To begin, I feel like this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kEpZWGgJks) provides some relevant information against Civil Asset Forfeiture.

While it is a video based in comedy, John Oliver paint a terrifying picture of over empowered law enforcement, often referring to the practice as "legalized robbery." He goes further into defining the legislation behind it, explaining how law enforcement can abuse through two main methods.

1. They can confiscate items (such as cash) that they believe will be involved in a crime that has yet to occur.
2. They can charge the items with a crime instead of the owner.

1 was originally intended for allowing seizure of drugs and money for buying those drugs for "crippling drug rings," and since 2006, 1.5 billion has been returned to crime victims (http://www.justice.gov/usao/priority-areas/victims-rights-services/returning-money-victims). 1, however, can be abused to make it so that officers can arguably confiscate any amount of money from any individual because they believe that they are going to purchase drugs. 2 only adds potential for abuse, as if property is charged with a crime, it is often guilty until proven innocent. See this example of US vs. 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fin (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1409588.html). Further troubling, many of these police departments are allowed to keep most if not all of the proceeds they gain from these seizures.

Now obviously the source I provided is fairly liberal in its perspective. It does however, cause me to notice a parallel with the interpretation of the commerce clause. Police officers abuse a law that allows them to take money based on their belief of its potential involvement in a crime, so whose to say that the federal government won't veer into the same trap of over interpreting the commerce clause? Oh wait, they did, a la US v. Lopez.