Virginia State Police Special Agent Accountant William M. Talbert initiated an investigation of Sheriff Noblin at the request of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II on Oct. 11, which “revealed the fact that certain monies totaling approximately $48,500 from the Halifax County State Asset Forfeiture Fund and $34,500 from the Halifax County Sheriff’s Department Drug Task Force Fund were requested by and allocated directly to Sheriff Stanley L. Noblin for use in narcotics enforcement.”
Noblin requested the funds on sheriff’s office letterhead in increments between $4,000 and $8,000 between May 4, 2009 and March 8, 2011, according to Talbert.
“There is no record in ledgers or bank statements received by [Talbert] which account for the use of $83,000 requested by Sheriff Noblin for narcotics enforcement,” he continued.
“There is no indication that the use of the aforementioned funds, after being received by Sheriff Noblin, were used for official business,” said Talbert in his affidavit in support of the search warrant.
While the investigation may plumb the depth of Noblin’s slush fund, it remains to be seen if questions are raised about the very process of forfeiture in Virginia, a state where the forfeiture laws are in dire need of reform. Earlier this year, in an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock discussed proposed reforms to the Virginia forfeiture laws, writing:
According to a national report released in 2010, “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture,”Virginia ranks as one of the very worst states for forfeiture abuse. Its law and practice earn it a grade of D-minus.
In addition to streamlining the forfeiture laws, it is imperative that substantive changes be made to Virginia’s civil forfeiture system.
First, police and prosecutors should be required to obtain a conviction before taking away someone’s property. This would restore the principle that you — and your property — are innocent until proven guilty.
Second, police and prosecutors should not be paid on commission. The legislaturemust remove the direct-profit incentive in forfeiture efforts by steering forfeiture revenue to the state general fund or another neutral fund, not directly back to law enforcement coffers.
By replacing civil with criminal forfeiture, Virginiacan end the absurd practice of a person having to enter a lawsuit against his own property in civil court. The state should be required to convict someone before it takes title to seized property. Moreover, the allure of financial benefits embedded in civil forfeiture encourages police and prosecutors to put the pursuit of property ahead of the pursuit of justice. This policing for profit must also end.
Procedural changes are well and good, but property owners in Virginianeed real and substantive changes to protect them from forfeiture abuse.
Next year, Virginia Governor Bob McConnell is pushing legislation in the Virginia legislature meant to address some of these abuses. It will be interesting to see if some of the abuses from this system can be curtailed in the face of vigorous opposition of a law enforcement lobby bent on protecting its 100% share of forfeiture revenues.