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Proposed Ohio civil forfeiture reforms would end legal nightmare for many

Nick Sibilla works at the Institute for Justice in VirginiaNick Sibilla ARLINGTON, Virginia -- Based on little more than mere suspicion, law enforcement can seize cash, cars, even real estate, from Ohioans who have done nothing wrong. Under "civil forfeiture" laws, property owners have fewer rights than accused criminals, while this process brings in tens of millions of dollars in revenue to fatten budgets for police and prosecutors. With a major reform bill currently pending in the Ohio Senate, lawmakers now have a chance to curb this abusive practice. In Ohio, owners do not have to be convicted, or even charged with a crime, to permanently lose their property to civil forfeiture. Meanwhile, for prosecutors to win one of these cases, they need only show by a "preponderance of the evidence" (i.e. more likely than not) that a property has some connection to criminal activity. That is far lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required for criminal convictions. Thankfully, new legislation (House Bill 347) unveiled by Republican state Reps. Robert McColley of Napoleon, in Northwest Ohio, and Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati would restore due process for Ohioans caught in this legal nightmare. First, their reform bill would only allow a property to be forfeited after the owner has been convicted in criminal court. In addition, McColley and Brinkman's legislation would raise the standard of proof to "clear and convincing evidence," which better protects property owners. Just as crucially, nothing in the bill would hinder law enforcement from seizing property, so long as they had probable cause for the seizure. In May, the Ohio House overwhelmingly passed Substitute House Bill 347. Forfeiture has become a booming industry for Ohio law enforcement. Left unchecked, forfeiture has become a booming industry for Ohio law enforcement. By participating in one federal forfeiture program called "equitable sharing," a local or state agency can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from a forfeited property by collaborating with a federal agency. A recent report by the Institute for Justice where I work found that between 2000 and 2013, Ohio law enforcement received nearly $140 million in federal forfeiture funds from the U.S. Department of Justice.


Our Place Initiative embarks on its ‘maiden voyage’ to transform Etobicoke

An Etobicoke-based grassroots organization is putting the call out to all community-minded residents of the area to join its new Community Action Group. Our Place Initiative (OPI) is a not-for-profit aimed at bringing together Etobicoke residents “who want to meet their neighbours, get engaged in their community and work to make Etobicoke better.” To those ends, OPI will be hosting the inaugural meeting of its newly launched Community Action Group on Thursday, Feb. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall. All are invited to attend, said OPI Field Director Murray Foster. “We want to cast a wide net and get as many people as possible out there who are motivated to build a better Etobicoke,” said Foster, a member of the OPI steering committee. “Part of the general vision we have for the meeting is we want to come to the group and say ‘here are some ideas that we have: let’s petition John Tory about transit, let’s get buses on certain routes, let’s build community gardens’, but we also want to throw it out to the group to find out what their passions are and what they want this group to do. “Because, in many ways, the key to the success of this group will be in identifying the passions of the people in that room and having the meeting led by them and their ideas.” Formed about three years ago by a group of socially active Etobicoke residents with a desire to “create and foster engagement” in Etobicoke, Foster said OPI got its start by canvassing door-to-door to gauge the issues that matter most to local residents two summers ago. “Transit, youth services, and infrastructure and storm-readiness were among the top three concerns,” Foster reported. From there, OPI hosted a series of debates leading up to the Oct. 27, 2014 municipal election last year – including a mayoral election at Humber College, and all-candidates’ debates for Etobicoke Centre and Etobicoke-Lakeshore. With the launch of the Community Action Group this month, Foster said he’s hopeful OPI will only grow from that foundation. “Now we’re looking to do something that is sort of more than just one-off events – we want to build something,” he said of the Community Action Group, which he hopes will meet at least once a month on an ongoing basis. “We want to generate more and more members and eventually take on more and more engagement and community-building activities in Etobicoke – that’s our vision. And Feb. 26 will be our maiden voyage.” For that inaugural meeting, Foster said the OPI steering committee has invited an inspirational guest speaker they hope will shed some light on just how much can accomplished in a community when its residents work together toward common goals. As chair of the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee, Sabina Ali has taken amazing strides in bettering her community in just six years, Foster said. “In the beginning there were no services there at all, but she helped gather five or six women from the neighbourhood and started this committee. One of their first initiatives was getting garbage cans in the parks and now six years later, it’s amazing what they’ve done – everything from Friday night art fairs with local live bands, artisanal products and food from all the various ethnicities around the neighbourhood, to reading programs for kids, to community gardens. The list goes on forever,” he said. “This woman is very inspiring, so we’ve invited her to come speak to us what’s possible; to tell what they did in just six years by generating interest from the community. We can make it happen here in Etobicoke, too.” For more information about OPI and/or to RSVP for the Community Action Committee’s inaugural meeting on Feb. 26, go to www.ourplaceinitiative.com


Cliven Bundy still not paid $1M+ OR faced any Asset Forfeiture!

Hello - Given the many excellent columns and stories relating to unfair forfeitures, etc., we urge you to please FOLLOW UP on the 'Bundy Story'. Most Americans are not aware that Cliven Bundy has easily avoided such Forfeiture and STILL has not paid the $1M+ he owes. How is this even possible, given the outrageous stories your write about? The fundamental unfairness of such hypocrisy and failure is more outrageous than many egregious stories you've written about - because of his social and political 'standing' and because of his nationally-televised criminal acts intended to achieve his goal of "I will never pay!". "Equal Protection under the Law" now confuses our children, who all saw rifles pointed at US Law Enforcement Officers - with NO Consequences!?!


Cliven Bundy still not paid $1M+ OR faced any Asset Forfeiture!

Hello - Given the many excellent columns and stories relating to unfair forfeitures, etc., we urge you to please FOLLOW UP on the 'Bundy Story'. Most Americans are not aware that Cliven Bundy has easily avoided such Forfeiture and STILL has not paid the $1M+ he owes. How is this even possible, given the outrageous stories your write about? The fundamental unfairness of such hypocrisy and failure is more outrageous than many egregious stories you've written about - because of his social and political 'standing' and because of his nationally-televised criminal acts intended to achieve his goal of "I will never pay!". "Equal Protection under the Law" now confuses our children, who all saw rifles pointed at US Law Enforcement Officers - with NO Consequences!?!



List of how donations assist specific victims

It would be nice to have case updates or know how the donated

funds are being utilized and even better yet, if funds were set up to help

i  for each supported case of civil forfeiture to help those fight against it

and appeal to the higher courts and target organizations and groups that support these funds

 

 


Local Ordinances

Because Congress and state legislatures can be tough eggs to crack, we volunteers could also be pushing our cities to abolish asset forfeiture. Writing up a stock ordinance that we could all use would greatly facilitate this. Maybe little packets to present to city councils too. I'd be happy to pay for the materials.