Friday, November 21, 2014

(Un)Civil Asset Forfeiture

You know my rule here, right? One instance of ignorance maybe rises to the surface of my attention, but when a couple of sightings or citings come along in a row, I usually feel compelled to pursue the matter. That's the case here. Thanks to Slate, I saw this informative and entertaining piece by comedian John Oliver a few weeks ago.

Now I knew and didn't know this. I had heard that the powers that be have seized a tremendous number of assets in the drug bust game, but until I watched this segment, I had no idea that the police could seize assets simply on the assumption of criminal activity, and actual conviction isn't a requirement. For some reason, they can simply keep some of the money and property they seize.

Sounds pretty bad, right? But a week or so ago, I learned of another kind of assets seizure that in some ways seems even worse. This is the way that law enforcement habitually treats the property of the homeless, which is sometimes taken away when left even briefly unattended and often not given back. As of August of this year, the destruction of that property is illegal in California without giving the homeless person a  fair chance to reclaim it. As an activist lawyer came to our weekly discussion group on his way to a homeless teach-in, it became clear that the law is not always adhered to yet.

Some people might think that the small amount of belongings that a homeless person manages to carry around with them through their day is not very worthwhile, but in my view, taking away every worldly possession someone has is a lot worse than seizing, say, a yacht.

According to SF Gate, here's what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had to say about it:

"The government may not take property like a thief in the night; rather, it must announce its intentions and give the property owner a chance to argue against the taking."

Here's an article from McClatchyDC on how the homeless people in Sacramento filed claims for the return of their property. It was a tactic described to us by our activist/lawyer visitor, although he did tell us that people don't usually get their property back but some form of compensation, as seems to be the case in the Sacramento scenario. And while we're at it, here is his blog, called Living My Story, which is a lot about what's going on in Baldwin Park, California. He goes by the moniker PC there.

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