Media Roundup: Civil Forfeiture

IJ landed a major victory in North Carolina last week when they IRS agreed to return over $150,000 to an innocent store owner. Ken Quran’s money was seized under “structuring” laws, created with the intention of targeting criminals who try to evade bank-reporting requirements, but increasingly applied to hardworking small business owners who do substantial business in cash.

The act of seizing and holding onto someone’s money or other property without ever convicting them of a crime is all too common under civil forfeiture laws, which IJ has been working to curb. IJ Attorney Robert Everett Johnson addressed this particular case of civil forfeiture abuse in an op-ed for USA TODAY shortly before the victory:

“Imagine losing your entire life savings to the IRS even though you did nothing wrong. That is exactly what happened to Ken Quran of North Carolina. Using a process called civil forfeiture, the IRS took every last penny in Ken’s bank account —$153,907.99. That is money Ken needs to run his business, and it is money he was counting on to support himself and his wife in their old age.”

Clear examples of civil forfeiture run amok are leading some lawmakers to consider reform measures. One police chief in Oklahoma, after having his own truck seized through forfeiture, has now come out against laws, along with a State Senator who recently introduced legislation to end them. IJ Communications Associate Nick Sibilla wrote about Oklahoma’s efforts, and history of problems with civil forfeiture, in a rent Forbes op-ed:

Over the past year, stories involving police confiscation in this deeply conservative state have erupted into national headlines. An assistant district attorney once used forfeiture funds to pay his student loans. Another prosecutor lived for years, completely rent-free, in a home seized in a drug raid. Previously, The New Yorker reported that police in Tulsa have driven “a Cadillac Escalade stenciled with the words ‘THIS USED TO BE A DRUG DEALER’S CAR, NOW IT’S OURS!’”

It’s not all encouraging news in the world of civil forfeiture. A recent report by the Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out that the state of Kentucky seems to be disregarding requirements placed on police and sheriff departments to report how much they seize through this process. The report notes:

[A]n Enquirer investigation found fewer than 30 percent of such agencies around the state actually sent in such accounts last fiscal year under a system that state officials describe as “sporadic” at best.

It’s possible only 30 percent of agencies in the state seized property and cash, but state officials say that’s unlikely. Also, the reporting doesn’t indicate how the agencies seized or kept the property or cash – or even if seizures resulted in convictions.

Those stats, or lack thereof, as well as other loopholes in the law have a local legislator looking to possibly reform state seizure and forfeiture rules.

 

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