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Drug War is a Cover to Steal Citizens’ Property

Posted on Thursday, 17th November 2011 @ 12:44 PM by Text Size A | A | A

 

Joe Hogsett, U.S. Attorney with the Southern District of Indiana, recently awarded Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott and Jackson County Prosecutor Rick Poynter with checks, for $9,018.20 and $1,288.39, for their agencies’ roles in a seizure of $13,000 that was linked to no crime. January Wetzel, of Trib Town, reported:

 

“It’s what I like to call a win-win-win situation,” Hogsett said. “The money is taken out of the drug dealers’ hands, which is a win, and is returned to those responsible for the interdiction to help pay for better law enforcement, which is another win.
“And finally the taxpayers are winners,” he added.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but it would have to come from additional appropriations from the city or county’s budget. So in essence, the drug dealers are paying for it, not the taxpayers.”
Hogsett added the case was an example of “good, solid gumshoe police investigation and the importance of having legal involvement.”

During the stop, a Seymour K9 unit was brought in and a search warrant was issued.

Although no drugs were located, $13,000 was found in a rear wheel hub compartment, Hogsett said.”

 

There are a number of problems here.

It might be a winner for the police department, the prosecutor, and the US District Attorney’s office. The gentleman who lost his $13,000, despite a lack of conviction, probably isn’t too enchanted. Enlisting the aid of an attorney to fight a forfeiture is expensive. Legal fees add up quickly. Attorneys who are experienced in fighting forfeitures usually charge large retainers (frequently more than the $13,000 that was seized). And most people lose when they contest such seizures because the ‘innocence’ of the cash has to be proved. Choosing to hire an attorney, that will likely double the expense of the initial forfeiture, is a luxury that few can afford. If someone does choose to fight the forfeiture, knowing that the fight is probably more expensive than the forfeiture itself, it is probably to prove a point. It’s probably a wasted point. Law enforcement is rarely disciplined over improper forfeitures. And, there are weekly stories of law enforcement caught embezzling forfeitures, yet avoiding jail time.

If the gentleman chooses to fight the forfeiture without an attorney, he is looking at a confusing array of laws, strict timely responses, research materials that are often no longer accurate, and a justice system that presumes the guilt of seized property. Few people have the requisite skills to credibly navigate our justice system. And very few pro se claimants, in forfeiture cases, win.

Law enforcement knows all of this. So, it’s a little disingenuous for Joe Hogsett to claim, “Alvarez was able to make a claim for the money, which he did, but later made no judicial claim to it…So this is a symbolic way to give the money back where it belongs, and I am proud to present it.”

It is also very distressing that we continue to permit currency seizures arising from positive drug sniffs by K9 drug units, when no drugs are found. A majority of US currency has drug residue and will register positive by K9 units. Currency is not illegal. It is not illegal to transport any amount of currency within the United States. There is some precedent for challenging currency seizures, arising from K9 units, but courts generally allow it. Currency discovered in a search, premised on a positive drug sniff, in the absence of contraband, should be excluded from police seizure power.  Current policy tells our citizens that they need to either contract a third party to store their currency or hide the currency and hope that the police won’t take it. If the police allege drug trafficking, they can seize the money from the third party.

 

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but it would have to come from additional appropriations from the city or county’s budget. So in essence, the drug dealers are paying for it, not the taxpayers.”

 

It is also problematic that the money is going to law enforcement without legislative appropriation. Law enforcement should not be in charge of its own appropriations. Communities elect legislators to appropriate funds to the projects that they want to fund. It is essential that appropriations come from parties that are accountable to voters. The power of the purse is how we correct problems with government agencies. Departments know that they will have their funding cut if they are not responsive to voter desires. Similarly, they can expect prioritization of funding if voters are happy with a department. Instead, local police departments are getting more and more of their funding through federal agencies that are not accountable to local communities. This short circuiting of the appropriating process, to allow for unaccountable police departments, is at odds with the system of checks and balances that has protected us from tyranny.

 

 

 

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