Thursday, May 22, 2014

Of kingpins, pirates and privateers: The application of civil asset forfeiture to alleged college-student pot dealers

When Texas first created asset forfeiture law it was ostensibly to go after "kingpins," if one were to believe proponents' rhetoric. Law enforcement, though, has moved well beyond kingpins when it comes to asset seizure, as evidenced by this May 16 story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reported in part by TCU journalism students, about the aftermath of an 23-person bust of an alleged student pot sales ring at TCU in 2012. From there, the process devolved into an ongoing, low-level property grab by local authorities:
The criminal cases would end in a fizzle — Anderson got 48 months’ probation for two counts of delivery of marijuana, and the others all received probation, often followed by deferred adjudication, or a lesser punishment.

Still, as Anderson and other former students would find, the economic penalties of the drug arrests could far outweigh the results of the criminal cases.

The haul seized by police through civil asset forfeiture was substantial: $46,243 in cash; 15 cars, trucks and SUVs valued at more than $250,000; and nine weapons, according to an after-action report released five days after the slew of arrests.

Other assets picked up by police included iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and an assortment of cellphones — 36 items totaling around $17,650.

The items were seized before formal charges were filed and months before any convictions. Under state law, police have the power to seize items that might have been used in a crime or paid for with money from a crime.

A person doesn’t have to be convicted, or even formally charged, for police to take their assets and for the county to keep them.

“They make the arrest and ask questions later,” said Tim Evans, the attorney for Matthew Davis, one of the TCU students arrested.

Read more here:
If I were an artist, I'd illustrate this story with an image of Lady Justice peeking out from under her blindfold to assess the relative wealth of defendants, willing if need be to lay down her sword to better fill her robes with gold from their pockets. Her scales have been reduced from a metaphor for equality under the law to a mere merchant's tool for weighing the students' coinage.

Good coverage; read the whole thing. See also this interesting, related item analyzing the process of auctioning off forfeited items. Eric Nicholson at the Dallas Observer's Unfair Park blog summed the issue up well with this conclusion:
Here's betting Fort Worth police seize this type of property in lower-profile drug cases all the time; why should the college kids be any different?

The potentially concerning thing is how the outcome is arrived at. These are civil seizures, meaning that defendants don't get the due process protections they do in criminal cases and that the burden of proof for law enforcement is much lower. Indeed, prosecutors need not even secure a conviction in order to keep someone's property. It turns the presumption of innocence on its head.
One is reminded of the important distinction between a pirate and a privateer.


rodsmith said...

personally I don't give a shit what the criminal stooges on the bench say!


"A person doesn’t have to be convicted, or even formally charged, for police to take their assets and for the county to keep them."

Is THEFT and in this case we're talking 100's of thousands of dollars that makes it grand theft and makes the thief or thief's no matter what so-called costume they have on liable for execution when caught in the act.

sorry in the real AMERICA if you think someone is a criminal you investigate, charge, convict. THEN and ONLY then can a JUDGE order any type of fine or financial judgement. Anything done before this is a CRIME and can be punished by the ones your trying to RIP OFF. Yes that does include the two-faced shits on the bench as well. They have become accessory's BEFORE the fact therefore legally they can get the same punishment.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I've got to say, although in a bit less colorful language, I kind of agree with Rodsmith. I feel that it is a complete abrogation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for any Jurist to co-sign the basic theft of individuals property. Any idiot would know that a person attending college needs a laptop or tablet to complete their schoolwork. Any student with the wherewithal to attend TCU is going to have a vehicle and a cell phone. The seziure of this type of property is simply theft which when done by Law Enforcement is I believe called Official Repression or it could be called Theft by Conversion. It could lead one (although in an extreme) to ask "If I walk into my home and someone is robbing my house I can shoot them" why can the not in this situation, what if it was a burglar in a stolen police uniform? ( I agree this is an extreme situation) but the law is the law. I further agree that any Jurist who condones or signs off on the forfeiture of a persons property before a conviction. is committing an offense worthy of their disbarment. I cannot see how any right thinking person could disagree. To take a drug kingpins mansions and Rolls Royce automobiles and Huge stashes of cash hidden in the walls and holding them until conviction, yes I get that and agree. But these kids are sharing whacky tobaccy. It will be legal in Texas within months or perhaps a year or so because the same people who are stealing their property are seeing the fancy new toys they can buy with their share of the tax revenue. So in this instance I am forced to agree that it is outright theft by the law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary and these students property needs to be returned and they should be compensated for thier property that is gone. Thats my two cents for what it is worth Scott.

rodsmith said...

Well Homeless I used to be nice and polite. But they have gotten 1000% worse then they used to be. It used to be hidden and secret. Today they really don't seem to give a shit if we know. As if they can do whatever they want and we can't do shit.

You would think the fall of soviet Russian and the arab summer would prove even the fuckups who run this country CAN FALL. Sorry but not even AMERICAN is guaranteed to be here forever in fact from what I've seen it's been in decline for the last 40-50 years. Just like ROME, CHINA, SPAIN, ENGLAND and 100's of other empires rose and fell. THIS one will too. Only question is how far and how bloody it will be.