Tenny Mucho Mucho Deniro In Su Trucky-Trailer? Or, Why We Need Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Now
Five years ago, John Oliver did a segment that highlighted why we need civil asset forfeiture reform.
Asset forfeiture has become a mainstay of funding for many law enforcement agencies. Fishing for forfeiture funds on the nation’s highways has become something of a game for many law enforcement officials, resulting in recognition and other rewards for the officers who can rake in the most cash in a calendar year.
To get the high score, police across the country are making “pretext stops” for the primary purpose of looking for money to take. When you are pulled over for what you thought was a speeding ticket and, within 60 seconds of appearing at your window, the officer asks, “How much money are you carrying in your car,” you are not alone – it is happening to motorists everywhere.
Why do we need civil asset forfeiture reform?
Police are Stopping Vehicles Just to Look for Money
Civil asset forfeiture is a valuable tool for law enforcement to take away drug traffickers’, money launderers’, and other criminals’ motivation for committing crime. Hit them where it hurts – their pocketbook – and you take away their ill-gotten gains as well as their ability to continue their criminal enterprise.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Until you realize that much of the forfeiture money that is being seized by law enforcement across the country is not being taken from convicted criminals – in many cases, the person whose money is taken is not even charged with a crime.
I’ve watched plenty of dashcam and bodycam videos from traffic stops, and I still cringe when I hear an officer say, “How much money do you have?”
I cringe when it is obvious that an officer is going to search a motorist’s car, not because they suspect a crime has been committed, but because they are hoping to find cash that they can seize.
I cringe when the same officer is celebrating and giving high-fives – on his dashcam video – after finding and seizing a person’s money.
Because most people cannot afford to pay an attorney to fight a forfeiture claim for $2000 taken by the police. Or $5000 or $10,000.
Because many people don’t know that they can fight a bogus forfeiture claim, and law enforcement will often attempt to get the motorist to sign a document relinquishing their claim to their money, right there on the roadside.
Because law enforcement should be enforcing the law with funding from the taxpayers, not robbing taxpayers on the side of the road at gunpoint to line the pockets of their departments.
Many law enforcement officers see fishing for forfeiture funds as a game. They are rewarded with advancement and recognition by their departments for bringing in the most money – whether the money comes from drug traffickers, from the car I just sold, from my student loan check I just cashed, or from my inheritance.
Policing for Profit – Why Law Enforcement is Hooked on Forfeiture Funds
Law enforcement agencies nationwide have become used to having a “slush fund” from forfeiture proceeds and may use the funds to pay salaries, to purchase vehicles and equipment, and for discretionary funding – things that they would never have bought otherwise and probably should not be buying in the first place.
It has become a “secondary source of funding” that allows police departments to side-step the budget and appropriations process and buy the things that the legislature, city council, or county council might not approve.
- Military gear like Humvees, automatic weapons, gas grenades, night vision scopes, and sniper gear;
- Electronic surveillance equipment like automated license plate readers and cellphone trackers;
- Armored personnel carriers;
- Bars and liquor;
- A margarita maker;
- Sparkles the Clown; and
- Awards banquets.
When law enforcement agencies become dependent on forfeiture funds for their spending, that spells bad news for citizens on the highways…
Misuse of Forfeiture Funds
Law enforcement officials across the country are being charged with misconduct in office, embezzlement, and other crimes for their misuse of forfeiture funds – not just the rank and file police officers, but county sheriffs also.
For example, the former Florence County Sheriff was recently indicted for misconduct in office which included allegations that he embezzled forfeiture funds “to buy window tinting services, floor mats, tools, and groceries.”
After his death, it was discovered that an Orangeburg County sheriff had embezzled over $70,000 from “federal and state task force funds” to buy an RV for himself and his girlfriend.
A SC prosecutor was recently sentenced to a year and a day in prison for stealing tax dollars for personal use, although the original allegations included the theft of money “taken from state and federal accounts holding assets forfeited by defendants in illegal drug cases.”
John Oliver’s Segment on Asset Forfeiture
Of course, there is nothing I can say that John Oliver didn’t say better five years ago:
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney in Columbia, SC
Elizabeth Franklin-Best is a federal white collar criminal defense and federal appeals lawyer located in Columbia, SC.
For more information, call us at (803) 331-3421 or send us an email to set up a consultation about your case.