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We haven’t been posting a lot lately, but I did want to give an update on the things we are tracking at the time. You should already have the sense that abuses of civil forfeiture laws are a 50-state problem; here is some detail on precisely where and what.

  • Texas
    • Highway robbers: Police use civil forfeiture laws to steal from black people in Tehana.
    • Joe Garza, a DA representing Jim Wells and Brooks County, indicted for misappropriating millions of dollars of forfeiture money. This is one of those “Yea, he went to the casino with public money” kind of stories.
    • Jimmy Dool, a Texan from Eastland County, has filed a 1983 civil rights lawsuit against officials in Eastland for stealing his house, cars, and other property. I haven’t read the entirety of the lawsuit, but Jimmy has filed all of his briefs in court with minimal assistance, an impressive accomplishment for a non-lawyer.
    • State of Texas v. One 2004 Chevrolet Silverado
  • California
    • Remember Donald Scott; it’s been 18 years since this multi-millionaire was shot dead in a SWAT raid where they fabricated evidence to facilitate the forfeiture of Scott’s ranch so that the Park Service could add it to  a federal park. Sadly, the only reason this incident ever received attention was that Donald Scott, unlike thousands of other forfeiture victims, was rich enough that his family could afford legal representation. Most forfeiture victims are poor and politically weak.
    • Our data indicates the total forfeiture revenue for California law enforcement agencies in 2008-2009 may have been as high as $200 million.
  • Missouri
    • Attorney Dan Viets represented a client in a forfeiture action where the police took a woman’s antique family Bible, family pictures, and laptop after the woman was falsely accused by her ex-boyfriend of growing cannabis. Despite being able to clear her name, some of her property was lost or destroyed, and it took her over a year to get her laptop back from the sheriff, who’d been using it as his own.
    • Attorney Doug Kennedy represented a client in a forfeiture action where the prosecutor tried to get the defendant to waive his property claim to a large sum of money that was seized during a traffic stop. The prosecutor wanted to refile the civil forfeiture claim as an administrative forfeiture, which is what you do with abandoned or unclaimed property. It’s easy enough to circumvent the state laws to keep forfeiture money, but this mechanism may have allowed the prosecutor to retain that money directly.
    • Data from public records indicates that most of Missouri’s counties are not in compliance with state law directing forfeiture money to the School Building Revolving Fund. Instead, law enforcement around the state retain the money either directly, or funnel forfeitures through the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing program. We are talking about between $60-$75 million in 2008-2009. The data here is notably incomplete in some very disturbing ways. More later.
    • Of the forfeitures reported to the Missouri state auditor, 20%-30% are not connected to a felony conviction as per state law, meaning many people are stripped of their property either with only a misdemeanor conviction and sometimes no conviction at all. The data here may be substantially incomplete as well. More later.
  • Indiana
    • Mark McKinney, the prosecutor of Delaware County, took forfeiture cases as a private attorney on a contingency basis (25%) and would also settle forfeiture actions out of court using Confidential Settlement Agreements (extortion). So far, however, other judges and prosecutors have only acted to protect their own, which means that McKinney still has a law license, and continues to practice.
    • Paul Ogden, a professor at the University of Indianapolis, finds that 1 out of 92 Indiana Counties are in compliance with Indiana state law regarding the disposition of forfeited proceeds. You guessed it…the police and the prosecutors keep it all to themselves…
  • Colorado
  • Kentucky
    • Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard Garrett has a slush fund…audit here
  • Hawaii
    • A SWAT raid in Hawaii ends with the prosecutor extorting the defendant, Robert Petricci, for $75,000; will post the details and documents in the next week or so.
  • West Virginia
    • One of the nation’s worst forfeiture laws might get worse: HB 4382 will expand the forfeiture laws at the state level. Bonus: one of the law enforcement agencies lobbying for the bill to pass has already been audited and found wanting. Scott Bullock from IJ has more.
  • South Carolina
    • Ridgeland, a town of about 2,500, has a forfeiture fund that has seen millions of dollars in deposits this decade. A lot of money is taken from Hispanics, and a lot of money is funneled through the Department of Justice Equitable Sharing program to avoid South Carolina law.
  • New York
  • New Mexico
    • A rare bright spot! The Kennedy Law Firm recently won a class-action in state court that prevents New Mexico law enforcement agencies from using federal forfeiture provisions and the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing program to circumvent New Mexico forfeiture laws.
  • Arizona
  • Pennsylvania

These cases are only the tip of the iceberg, and we’ll keep you updated with more.

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3 Responses to “A brief and incomplete survey of current civil forfeiture issues at the state level”

  1. I’m a victim of civil forfeiture. What can I do? I’v hired lawyers and contacted the ACLU, I’v also got ahold of local representatives. I tried to get ahold of the people who run fear . org but I had no luck there I even went as far as sending my testimonial (available upon request) to the infowars website. please let me know of any avenues i should take. thank you for your time

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