After the voters of Utah decided to ban Civil Asset Forfeiture about 20 years ago, the state is finding itself still dealing with cops taking people’s stuff before they’ve even been found guilty of anything. That’s the essence of civil asset forfeiture.
Nearly twenty years later, the cops are finding loopholes to get around Initiative B, which was passed with 69 percent of the vote. As for the 31 percent, wow, they must really suck as neighbors.
The cops are turning over stolen cash to the feds, to avoid the provisions of Initiative B. The feds are then giving a cut of the stolen booty to the local cops.
A case involving Kyle Sweeney, who had $500,000 in cash stolen from him in 2016 without being convicted of anything, is now before the Utah Supreme Court. Let’s see if the masters deign to extend the leash in Utah and end all the loopholes that allow local cops to ignore the so-called will of the people.
|Utah Supremes To Decide Whether Cops Are Violating Forfeiture Ban|
Voters in Utah banned state officials from seizing property from people who committed no crime almost two decades ago — or so they thought. Ever since Initiative B passed with 69 percent of the vote, police have evaded its provisions by seizing cash, turning it over to federal authorities, and then taking a cut of the proceeds in a way that is prohibited under state law. The Utah Supreme Court last week held oral arguments on a roadside seizure case that will decide whether law enforcement has gone too far.
Initiative B does not ban civil asset forfeiture. The measure merely states that full due process protections, including trial by jury, apply to the proceedings. It bans taking property from innocent owners and anyone found not guilty in criminal proceedings and explicitly prohibits state agencies from transferring seized property “directly or indirectly” to federal agencies without a court order. The law bans law enforcement agencies from profiting from seizure by ordering the cash to be given to the public school system, although the legislature loosened the restriction in 2004.
Kyle Savely had his money taken on November 27, 2016, after he was pulled over on Interstate 80 in Summit County for allegedly following someone too closely. That traffic charge was eventually thrown out, but the Utah Highway Patrol officer who stopped Savely called in a drug dog who alerted on his car. There were no drugs, but the officers helped themselves to $500,000 in cash that he was carrying in a Nautica bag.
Savely was never charged with any crime, and Utah law clearly states that the money should have been returned within 75 days if no charges were filed. The highway patrol bypassed that requirement by tipping off the Drug Enforcement Administration which had a federal judge issue an order to take the money.
“The cynic in me would say that what happened here was that this is a lot of money, that your client wanted to avoid the court, alerted DEA as to what happened here and is happy to circumvent the court proceedings in this case,” one high court justice speculated last week.