Tuesday, November 16, 2010

asset forfeiture and one form of government theft in Indiana

Radley Balko in Reason on asset forfeiture in Indiana-- after a February feature story on civil asset forfeiture-- "the process by which law enforcement groups can seize property, usually in drug cases, sometimes without ever charging anyone with a crime."

Indiana is one of several states that require civil asset forfeiture proceeds to go to a fund for public schools. Many states passed such laws in the late 1990s after media and public backlashes against civil forfeiture abuse. The states saw the funds as a way to remedy the incentive problems that arise when police and prosecutorial offices benefit directly from the money they seize. In Indiana, the requirement is actually written into the state's constitution.

But there are ways around these requirements...Given all of these ways around the law, how much forfeiture money is actually getting back to the school fund in Indiana? Almost none.


Balko refers to work by reporters at the Indianapolis Star (here-- and since then, here and here) and Indiana attorney/blogger, Paul Ogden, who "beat the paper to the story by several weeks". Ogden found:
  • Of Indiana's 92 counties, just five have paid any forfeiture money into the school fund over the last two years. Three of those made just one payment. One county made a single payment of $84.50. Only one county could arguably be seen as complying with the law: Wayne County made 18 payments totaling $38,835.56.
  • The total amount of forfeiture money paid into the account from all 92 Indiana counties over the two-year period was just $95,509.72.
It's apparent that prosecutors and judges in Indiana know they're gaming the system. For example, in a follow-up to my Reason piece, Gambill told me that he was suspicious of the motives of Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley in Anthony Smelley's case...

Civil asset forfeiture is an unjust, unfair practice under any circumstance. The idea that the government can take someone's property on the legal fiction that property itself can be guilty of a crime is an invitation to corruption...What's happening in Indiana, where the entire legal system is essentially ignoring the spirit if not the outright letter of state law, only confirms that once you give government license to steal, it's very difficult to wrest it back.

1 Comments:

At November 18, 2010 at 4:22 PM , Blogger edog said...

It is interesting to note how differently businesses versus private citizens are treated in this regard as well. I recently read how an individuals car may be "forfeited" should a child or childs friend happen to purchase or deal in drugs without the parents knowledge. Should it happen to be a rental car however, the government takes a different view of a large company such as Hertz with their deep pockets and well trained legal department even though both the parents and Hertz were equally in the dark about the goings on. Much the same way, a hotel room doesn't suddenly become property of the state should something illicit go on therein. Heaven help you if your child makes a poor decision while you are gone for a few days lest you need to rent the above mentioned hotel room after finding the title deed no longer in your name. Being involved in your kids lives is improtant to prevent these things from happening but I wonder how many police officers or judges with wayward kids in these circumstances would stand so boldly behind these laws should their property be subject to use for "the greater good". Punishment of a crime is a good and right thing, but these laws are the definition of collateral damage.
E

 

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