Speaking out: Asset forfeiture should only follow conviction

Speaking out: Asset forfeiture should only follow conviction

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If you regularly read my columns, you have probably figured out by now that I am a strong advocate of law and order. That brings me to three items I would like to discuss related to law enforcement that I believe should be changed or abolished.

The first is civil asset forfeiture or civil judicial forfeiture, and it is a procedure in which police agencies and the government can legally confiscate property from a person they suspect of criminal or illegal activity without charging them with a crime. This can be in the form of cash, or a house, or a car or a boat, just to name a few. This happens on a daily basis, and the only way to attempt to get your property back is to sue the agency that took your property. The burden of proof is on you to prove that the seized assets were not obtained through illegal means.

It is totally legal for citizens to travel in the contiguous 48 states with cash and there is no limit, but numerous people have had large sums of money taken from them by police agencies simply stating that they felt that the money was a product of a crime.

A friend of mine was traveling across country to purchase a “classic” car. He was flying commercially to his destination when at a layover at an airport, he was patted down by a Transportation Security Administration officer who discovered that he was carrying a wad of cash that he had taken with him to purchase the car. The TSA officer then notified a nearby Drug Enforcement Administration agent who then confiscated my friend’s cash. It was over $20,000. The only reason he had that much cash was because the seller of the car stated that he would only take cash. So, this poor guy is not only out the cash, but he also couldn’t purchase the car he wished to buy. So, on top of that, he had to pay to hire an attorney to try to regain his money, and the attorney told him that it is hard to prove innocence, so most people don’t even try to recover their property.

It is one thing to seize cash or property from a “known” drug dealer or criminal, but to seize assets from law-abiding citizens is legal thievery. It violates everyone’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights and everyone’s right to a presumption of innocence. The police presume that you are guilty, and since their agency directly profits from these seizures, this increases the possibility of abuse. Civil forfeiture should only be allowed upon a criminal conviction proving the case of criminal activity. Until then, be wary of carrying sums of cash.

The second issue that I wish to address is one in which you may not be aware. Let’s just say that you have someone invade your home to rob you or do you harm. Let’s say that you, in turn, escape your house and notify the local police agency. They show up and in the process of removing said home invader, the police damage or destroy your house. Guess what? You are on the hook financially for any repairs or replacement of your house. The police agency is considered a governmental entity, and you cannot sue them for any damage that was incurred during the performance of their duties. Also, good luck trying to get your homeowners insurance to pay.

The last item on my agenda that you need to consider is one that most people never experience. That is the act of being arrested. Now, I am all for criminal activity to be an arrestable offense, but what happens if you are arrested and no charges are filed, or all charges are dropped? I am not talking about a plea agreement or some good attorney got you off. I am talking about situations in which there was a possible rush to judgment or overzealous behavior by the police. That arrest record will follow you for the rest of your life whether you were innocent of the charges or not. I believe that laws should be passed that removes this arrest record if no charges were filed or you were exonerated.

Bob Cartledge was born and raised in Bismarck and lived here most of his life. He is retired after working close to 30 years for the North Dakota State Penitentiary, where he supervised the Treatment Unit. He was recently a member of the city’s Special Assessment Task Force. He and his wife were therapeutic foster parents for over 20 years with Path of North Dakota. He is an avid hunter, especially upland birds, and a part-time blogger.

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