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Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Asset Forfeiture: Theft By Legislature

The Examiner

In 2002, after years of government officials accusing people of crimes, then using the unproven allegations to steal their money, cars and valuables, often without even bringing charges against the original owners, the process of asset forfeiture was reformed in Colorado. The very sensible reform required officials to win convictions in court first, then take any property involved in crimes later. Now two lawmakers, Rep. Joe Rice and Sen. Brandon Shaffer, want to go back to the old way of doing things, short-circuiting due process and making residents of the state potential victims of highway robbery by the officials who are supposed to protect them.

The old procedure, still in place in many of the United States, was civil asset forfeiture. Based on medieval theories of law that allowed officials to bring charges against money and objects, civil asset forfeiture provided an easy means for officials to take cash, vehicles and even homes that they wanted without compensating the owners and without meeting the high standards of proof required in criminal courts. They were able to put seized assets to their own uses, which turned legalized theft into a lucrative revenue stream for many agencies. Not surprisingly, civil asset forfeiture became an abusive enterprise.

So it was reformed in 2002 by a law that required that assets be seized only from owners who had been convicted in court of crimes involving those assets: "No judgment of forfeiture of property in any forfeiture proceeding shall be entered unless and until an owner of the property is convicted of an offense listed in section 16-13-503." District attorneys were also required to report on their use of asset forfeiture so that the practice could be monitored for abuses.

No judgment of forfeiture of property in any forfeiture proceeding shall be entered unless and until an owner of the property is convicted of an offense listed in section 16-13-503.

But requiring that prosecutors actually prove their cases before they go on looting sprees is apparently too much for Rep. Joe Rice and Sen. Brandon Shaffer. They have introduced HB 1238 (PDF), which repeals the requirement for criminal convictions before money and valuables are seized by government officials. It also eliminates the reporting requirement , allowing asset forfeiture to proceed out of public view.

It really is a recipe for highway robbery.


Anonymous said...

These two, Shaffer and Rice need to read the 14th amendment of the US constitution which guarentee's all citizens due process and equal protection for liberty and property. Both should be kicked out of office for there actions. I spose there both attorneys trying to line there pockets. Vote them out at the earliest opportunity.djw

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is half right; Shaffer is a 2001 grad of CU Law but Rice is a former banker, mayor of Glendale, and military officer. It's not the lawyers who will benefit from this insane crappy proposal; it law enforcement and the government in general. It's the lawyers who will fight like hell to stop it--we generally recognize the unconstitutional aspects of this insane "war on drugs". There's plenty of legitimate criticism that can be directed at lawyers--but this isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting to find out why the Denver DA hasn't paid my husband's child support the $3250.00 that they received from the sale of his car. I guess they don't care about taking the money away from a couple of 12 year olds who obviously need it more than they do. Child Support has had a lien on all of his assets and according to the CURRENT statute, they should be getting the money...apparently the DA is telling them some BS that it goes to Victim's Assistance...yeah right...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for straighening out my generalization of critizing attorneys! My critisism was intended for DA's in general. They already violate the law without this new legislation which must be stopped. The lady with the child support law tells it all.
The issue of all people are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law must be upheld. thanks, djw

Topher E said...

I am currently in an email conversation with Representative Rice on this subject. Among other things, he said "Despite claims to the country that forfeiture laws have been abused, all I've heard is urban legends with no specifics that show abuse. Please let me know if you know of any specific cases of abuse and I will make sure that HB09-1238 is revised to address those concerns."

I believe Representative Rice needs to be informed of VERY SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED cases of abuse. If you have such documentation, please send it to him at: joerice38@msn.com

Anonymous said...