In Minnesota, if you are accused of a drug-related crime but not convicted, you can lose any property that the police and prosecutors say was used for the crime.
Seems prone to abuse to you?
It does to a lot of people. There’s a bill to try to fix that in the Legislature – to require convictions before forfeiting property.
It’s getting flak from “Law Enforcement” and “Prosecutors”.
Guess why (emphasis added)?
Backers say the state’s civil forfeiture laws are long overdue for a little due process. The laws have become a growing source of cash for law enforcement agencies and were famously abused by the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force, which paid out $840,000 in settlements to victims who had their property illegally seized.
I suspect if you asked a whooooole lot of people on the street what the standard was, they’d say “conviction”. They’d be wrong.
Under current law, police or sheriffs can keep property, vehicles and cash seized in drug cases or drive-by shootings — regardless of the outcome of the criminal case. If a suspect is found not guilty, they can still lose their property in civil court unless they can prove it was not involved in a crime. The bill would require prosecutors to return the property if there is no criminal conviction associated with the seizure.
And when I explain this to people who don’t follow these sorts of things, they’re non-plussed. Then, frequently, upset; you’re not actually “innocent until proven guilty”:
You have a kid who starts dealing a little weed? And he gets on the County Attorney’s radar to the point where the prosecutor decides to try to squeeze him and those close to him to get to someone else?
But it’s for the children. Er, I mean, for law enforcement!
Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Minnesota chapter, said that between 2003 and 2010, law enforcement agencies supplemented their budgets with $30 million gained through forfeitures. That, McGrath said, represents a 75 percent increase despite a small drop in the crime rate. The bill has received broad bipartisan support.
And who opposes the bill?
[County Attorneys Association] Executive Director John Kingrey said his organization supports fairness and transparency in the state’s forfeiture laws, but that the bill is ripe for abuse.
“Drug dealers are smart people,” Kingrey said. “One of the challenges we have is we walk in the door with cocaine and $10,000 sitting on the table, with five guys saying ‘That’s not mine.’ Four of them get convicted, and the fifth guy says ‘That money was mine, I wasn’t convicted, give me the dough.’ ”
Good heavens. That might require the county attorneys to do their jobs.
I’m going to emphasize this next bit:
It’s not just money, Kingrey said. Acquittals could also put guns back on the street.
Does anyone need to have this translated? “Being found not guilty of a crime means people might get their property back?”
Anyway – they’re all lawyers, so the truth will be found under many interlocking layers of bullshit. And here it is:
“Conviction is a very jazzy term, but it’s more nuanced,” Kingrey said.
“Conviction” may be jazzy.
“Innocent until proven guilty” is an AC/DC riff, plain and loud and unadorned and unmistakeable. No conviction, no forfeiture.
Cut the weasel words, County Attorneys. You’re running a licence to print money, and you don’t want the peasants to mess with a good thing.