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Asset Forfeiture: Use And Abuse

With John Harwood in for Tom Ashbrook.

With no charges of wrongdoing, you can lose your savings, your car, your house.  We look at the use and abuse of asset forfeiture laws.

Hartford Police Department Seized Hummer in TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut. (Flickr//Russ Glasson)

Hartford Police Department Seized Hummer in TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut. (Flickr//Russ Glasson)

It sounds like something that happens in Third World countries – a law enforcement officer stops you for a traffic violation, or for no reason at all, and demands your cash in return for letting you go. But it’s happened here.

Asset forfeiture laws designed to target drug dealers make that possible. How often are those laws abused? Do some police officers use them to finance their budgets – or simply to steal from those who can’t defend themselves?

This hour, On Point:  has law enforcement gone too far?

Guests

Sarah Stillman, Staff Writer at the New Yorker. Her article in the most recent issue, “Taken,” looked at forfeiture laws across the United States. (@stillsarita)

Vanita Gupta, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit, who felt their assets had wrongly been seized.

Cameron Holmes, assistant attorney general for the state of Arizona. Primary drafter of Arizona’s forfeiture and money laundering statutes. Chair of the Arizona Forfeiture Association, an association of border state attorney generals and law enforcement agencies.

From the Reading List:

The New Yorker: Taken — “The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is appealing. It enables authorities to confiscate cash or property obtained through illicit means, and, in many states, funnel the proceeds directly into the fight against crime. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, cops drive a Cadillac Escalade stencilled with the words “this used to be a drug dealer’s car, now it’s ours.”

Vice: Asset Forfeiture, the Cash Cow of the Drug War — “During a July 9 traffic stop in Meridian, Mississippi, police found $360,000 stashed in a secret compartment in the car. Though that’s perhaps an eyebrow-raising amount of money, readers of that linked article might notice something odd—the driver was let go, but the money was kept by the cops.”

Sentinel and Enterprise: Tewksbury motel owner lobbying Congress for reform of federal civil-forfeiture laws — “After winning a landmark federal forfeiture case against the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Russell Caswell, owner of the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, is headed to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to take part in a legislative briefing called “Policing For Profit” on the campaign to reform the federal civil-forfeiture laws.”
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