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Police departments seize assets from public based on department 'wish lists'


Civil asset forfeiture

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(NaturalNews) Few Americans want to actually believe that their country, increasingly, is becoming an authoritarian police state, but more and more are realizing that that is precisely what is happening. We feel it in our gut as we see it with our own eyes, because we are treated to example after example on a daily basis.

For instance, who among us would have believed 10, 20 or 30 years ago that someday police departments -- which are sworn to "protect and serve" their respective publics -- would adopt property-seizure policies based primarily on the needs of the department? And yet, as The New York Times reports, that is precisely what an increasing number of local agencies are doing:

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don't bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers ("everybody's got one already"), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars.

The wish lists

One of the seminars, which was captured on video in September, featured Harry S. Connelly, Jr., the Las Cruces, New Mexico, city attorney, who called such items "little goodies." He went on to describe how officers in his jurisdiction were salivating at the opportunity to seize one man's "exotic vehicle" outside of a local bar.

"A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new," explained Connelly. "Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like 'Ahhhh.' And he gets out and he's just reeking of alcohol. And it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.'"

Connelly is talking, of course, about a practice called "civil asset forfeiture," which permits governments -- without ever first convicting someone of a crime, much less file a criminal charge -- to take property from anyone suspected of having ties to criminal activity or behavior.

That practice was dramatically expanded during the 1980s' War on Drugs so that federal prosecutors and agents could track a drug suspect's cash, but the practice has since been bastardized by federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and state and local police departments. The Times noted that the practice has essentially become a "staple" of police departments because it can generate revenue for them:

It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces.

Critics of the practice see it as a blatant violation of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which guarantees, in part, that no one's "life, liberty or property" can be taken from them "without due process of law." According to the Cornell University Law School, due process throughout U.S. history has come to be interpreted as "an assurance that all levels of American government must operate within the law ('legality') and provide fair procedures."

Indeed, the practice has come increasingly under fire in recent months following a series of negative reports concerning civil asset forfeiture. Civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress have all raised serious concerns about its general fairness and constitutionality.

'We're taking your house'

"In many jurisdictions, the money can go to pay for salaries, advanced equipment and other perks," says the American Civil Liberties Union, on its website. "When salaries and perks are on the line, officers have a strong incentive to increase the seizures, as evidenced by an increase in the regularity and size of such seizures in recent years."

One of the most cited cases of this abuse of the law and constitution involved a Philadelphia couple, Christos and Markella Sourovelis. In March, authorities arrested their 22-year-old son for allegedly selling drugs out of their dream home that Christos was constantly working on; when the son was arrested, cops found $40 worth of heroin on him. The Sourovelis said they had no idea that their son, Yianni, was selling there. As reported by CNN:

A month-and-a-half later police came back -- this time to seize their house, forcing the Sourvelises and their children out on the street that day. Authorities came with the electric company in tow to turn off the power and even began locking the doors with screws, the Sourvelises say. Authorities won't comment on the exact circumstances because of pending litigation regarding the case.

Cops used "civil forfeiture" under federal drug laws as the reason for taking the home.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com

http://www.law.cornell.edu

http://www.cnn.com

https://www.aclu.org

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