Civil forfeiture, is it good or bad?

What is civil forfeiture?

Civil forfeiture occurs anytime law enforcement seizes property from a person suspected of being involved in a crime. Property that is seized during a civil forfeiture can include boats, cars, houses or anything else that law enforcement believes is involved in the crime. The process of seizing assets is also called civil judicial forfeiture or civil seizure.

What’s wrong with civil seizure?

Civil forfeiture can occur as soon as an arrest is made. However, the person who was arrested may later be found not guilty of the crime. Or, the person’s case may be dismissed or otherwise resolved in his favor. So what happens to the property that was seized during the arrest? Does it automatically get returned to that person? Sometimes, the seized property is sold at auction before the person has an opportunity to request it back through a civil forfeiture proceeding. This is especially troubling when, as we have seen, someone was wrongfully arrested, his property was seized during the arrest, it was sold, and then the criminal case was dropped. The person ends up with a record of criminal charges and without his property.

This is an extremely controversial practice, as noted by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “In rem proceedings often enable the government to seize the property without any pre-deprivation judicial process and to obtain forfeiture of the property even when the owner is personally innocent … Civil proceedings often lack certain procedural protections that accompany criminal proceedings, such as the right to a jury trial and a heightened standard of proof.

Despite these deficiencies, the Court has long upheld civil forfeiture as a law enforcement tool, based primarily on the argument that forfeiture ‘existed at the time of the founding.'”

Why defend law enforcement?

Law enforcement is doing its job. The act of seizing property possibly used in the commission of a crime preserves that property as evidence in the underlying criminal proceeding. Also, the seizure of property removes that thing from use by other potential criminals. The process of civil forfeiture has been established as a remedy for people to get their things back after the criminal case is dropped. However, as Justice Thomas stated above, this process needs to be revised. But this is not the fault of the police, it is in the hands of the legislature.

Conclusion

The civil forfeiture law needs to be revised. The law should provide criminal defendants ample opportunity to reclaim their property once the criminal case is resolved. The law should require an Evidence Control Unit (ECU) to make sure that a seized asset is marked with its associated criminal case name and number. The law should also provide that ECU check the status of the criminal case so the asset is not sold earlier than, for example, six months after the conclusion of the criminal case.

Rausch Law understands the complexities involved in navigating civil forfeiture cases. If you are have questions about civil forfeiture, contact Rausch Law at 443-280-9167.

Do you have an civil forfeiture story? We’d like to continue the discussion!

What do Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) mean for an Officer?

What are body worn cameras?

Body worn cameras (BWCs) are small devices that record police interactions with the community. The devices are activated with the push of a button and document statements, behavior, and other evidence. Law enforcement uses video and audio recordings from these devices to show that they are being transparent with the community. These recordings can deter aggressive and illegal behavior by the public or law enforcement.

Why use BWCs?

Partly due to the considerable negative publicity police have received lately in places like Baltimore, Md., Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., BWCs are becoming more popular with police departments nationwide. Many people don’t realize BWCs are meant to protect officers and the community. An officer has no access to the camera’s inner workings and an administrator typically downloads footage when the officer is off duty. In court, footage can be used to show what actually happened as opposed to having “he said/she said” arguments. There have been documented cases where a defense attorney has seen the footage and advised her client to plead guilty to the charges.

What does a BWC look like and how does it connect to your body?

One of the leading BWCs is the Axon 2 Body Worn Camera. The Axon Body 2 has “RAPIDLOCK MOUNTS: Versatile mounts keep the camera steady during tough situations” according to the Axon Body 2 product brochure. The Axon Body 2 is shown below:
Body Worn Cameras

The Keyser Police Department in Cumberland, Md. uses the Axon Body 2 BWC, according to the Cumberland Times.

Policy

While BWCs are great tools, certain policies must be created and followed to ensure proper and consistent use by law enforcement. Such policies also give communities a sense that law enforcement is protecting and serving them. Certain civil rights groups have worked with law enforcement to create initial policy guidelines, recognizing this is new technology and policies likely will need adjustments as use of the devices increases.

One group, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, has worked with local communities and federal agencies to come up with the following policy guidelines for law enforcement agencies:

  • Develop camera policies in public with the input of civil rights advocates and the local community.
  • Commit to a set of narrow and well-defined purposes for which cameras and their footage may be used.
  • Specify clear operational policies for recording, retention, and access, and enforce strict disciplinary protocols for policy violations.
  • Make footage available to promote accountability with appropriate privacy safeguards in place.
  • Preserve the independent evidentiary value of officer reports by prohibiting officers from viewing footage before filing their reports.
  • Following these guidelines ensures transparency. Civil liberties are in our nation’s DNA, and transparency ensures law enforcement and communities gain mutual respect.

    Rausch Law, LLC understands the complexities involved with navigating the world of Body Worn Cameras. If you are law enforcement and have questions about how Body Worn Cameras can better assist you in the event of an excessive force complaint, contact Rausch Law, LLC at 443-280-9167.

    Do you have an interesting BWC story? We’d love to hear from you!