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John Ferro, the prosecuting attorney for Stark County, Ohio, gave the following presentation on asset forfeiture under Ohio law (Ohio Revised Code Title 2981) at the 2011 Law Enforcement Conference held by Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine. The presentation is here (it downloads as a pdf of a Powerpoint presentation) and may be a useful resource for defense attorneys interested in how the government may pursue forfeiture under Ohio law.

I thought I would particularly mention this slide on the “Advantages of Civil Forfeitures” (page 4, emphasis mine):

Advantages in Civil Forfeiture

  • Can utilize the civil discovery process to discover assets that may have been missed and include them
  • Use civil discovery to gain evidence – interrogatories, depositions, admissions etc. are all good tools and a lot of times not understood by the claimants and even their attorneys that are more familiar with criminal cases
  • The approach to the claimant’s 5th amendment privilege is different and proves to be an advantage (negative presumption if used)
  • Can call the defendant himself to the witness stand and question him
  • Can introduce prior convictions and criminal history in the hearing
    Can use remedies available under the Civil rules:
    • Default Judgment
    • Summary Judgment
Essentially, this is a recipe for stripping the core protections granted by the Constitution to defendants in criminal cases. Instead of just filing criminal charges in court, the prosecutor can beggar people in court by tricking them and their attorneys, compel the production of self-incriminating evidence and testimony typically blocked by the 5th Amendment, introduce irrelevant facts into evidence, and win a verdict without having to defend the case to a jury.
I might also point you to the “Personal Property” slide on page 7 that presents the questions that every law enforcement agent should ask themselves when investigating a crime:
  •  Should you seize the 52” plasma TV
  •  Should you seize the 13” color TV
  •  Should you seize the slate pool table
  •  Should you seize the leather living room suite
  •  Should you seize the video game system
  •  Should you seize the power tools
  •  Should you seize the diamond rings
And of course, the slide “Considerations” on Page 8, which asks: “Can you move it – is it worth trying?”
When these are the questions that the government focuses on, in these processes, for these motivations, we may find that “justice” becomes a sideshow, and the government’s pursuit of profit the main attraction.

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