The criminal operation known as Civil Asset Forfeiture, it seems, is bringing people on the “left” side of the American political spectrum together with folks on the “right” side of the political spectrum.
The leftist-oriented group, The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is partnering with the right-oriented group, AFP (Americans for Prosperity) to challenge the use of civil asset forfeiture.
The two groups are coming together to both challenge the constitutionality of the practice in court and to lobby “lawmakers” to create legislation ending the practice once and for all.
Civil Asset Forfeiture is a program introduced in the “War on Drugs” under the guise of shutting down drug operations immediately (before a trial) by seizing the assets of suspected drug dealers. Proceeds of these forfeitures have gone to fund police departments across America.
Civil Asset Forfeiture has taken more from people than robbery has, so it’s quite a lucrative business for these local police departments.
This fight is focused on the state of West Virginia, but the problems of civil asset forfeiture extend throughout America.
Members of Americans for Prosperity and the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia issued a news release Wednesday detailing a joint letter they wrote to lawmakers, asking them to run legislation that would, among other provisions, require a criminal conviction before agencies can file for what’s known as civil asset forfeiture.
“Under current law, police can seize and take ownership of individual West Virginians’ property without ever charging or convicting them of a crime,” the letter states. “This unfair taking of personal property by government officials can include cash, vehicles, families’ homes, or any property police initially think may be related to a crime.”
Eli Baumwell, policy director for the ACLU, said the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act allows officers to seize any property they believe could be involved in a criminal act. Even if a court finds a suspect innocent of charges, police can still file a motion to forfeit that person’s assets that were seized.
“If the police want to forfeit the property … they file a motion in court, and for a lot of people, the cost of getting a lawyer to fight this motion is more than the property is worth, or they’re afraid to challenge the police,” Baumwell said.
At that point, with the motion uncontested, the assets become the property of the law enforcement agency that seized it.
Baumwell said different agencies end up with percentages of those funds, but some of them go to the seizing department’s general revenue account and can be used to beef up salaries or buy new equipment.
“Most of it actually goes to the police that made the seizure, some of it goes to the local prosecutor, so there’s a really perverse incentive written into law,” he said. “For some of them, this is a real cash cow that’s helping pay their bills.
“Ensuring that West Virginians’ constitutional rights to due process and property are upheld is not a partisan issue. It is shocking for many to learn that the state can keep the property of an individual who has done nothing wrong,” Jason Huffman, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in the release. “We are urging lawmakers to pass this common-sense legislation in order to safeguard our citizens and the rule of law in the Mountain State.”