How the government creates criminals (asset forfeiture)

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/08/12/taken

They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.

No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.

Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.

The officers found the couple’s cash and a marbled-glass pipe that Boatright said was a gift for her sister-in-law, and escorted them across town to the police station…

The report describes their children as possible decoys, meant to distract police as the couple breezed down the road, smoking marijuana. (None was found in the car, although Washington claimed to have smelled it.) …

They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services…

Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country…

http://www.npr.org/2016/06/07/481058641/new-mexico-ended-civil-asset-forfeiture-why-then-is-it-still-happening

Now she and her parents sit around the dining table sifting through all the paperwork from the city. Her mother Cynthia doesn’t understand the legal logic here, the fact that they stand to lose their car for the actions of somebody else. But that’s how civil forfeiture works. The government can take possession of something that’s believed to be connected to a crime, regardless of who actually owns that thing and whether or not there’s been a conviction…

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2016/06/08/new-frontiers-in-asset-forfeiture/

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that also allows them to seize money in your bank account or on prepaid cards. It’s called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and state police began using 16 of them last month.

Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects you may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan any cards you have and seize the money…

News 9 obtained a copy of the contract with the state. It shows the state is paying ERAD Group Inc., $5,000 for the software and scanners, then 7.7 percent of all the cash the highway patrol seizes…

A report published last year found that of the $6 million seized by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies over the previous five years, two-thirds was taken from people who were never charged with a crime…

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/us/supreme-court-says-police-may-use-evidence-found-after-illegal-stops.html

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants…

In a dissent that cited W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Justice Sotomayor said the court had vastly expanded police power.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong…

Justice Sotomayor added that many people were at risk. Federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, she wrote, “the vast majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.” There are, she added, 180,000 misdemeanor warrants in Utah. And according to the Justice Department, about 16,000 of the 21,000 residents of Ferguson, Mo., are subject to arrest warrants.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined most of Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, along with all of a separate dissent from Justice Elena Kagan. But Justice Sotomayor reserved her most personal reflection for a part of her dissent in which she wrote only for herself, setting out in detail the dangers and indignities that often accompany police stops.

“For generations,” she wrote, “black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ — instructing them never to run down the street; always keep your hands where they can be seen; do not even think of talking back to a stranger — all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.”

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated,’” she wrote. “They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

Justin Driver, a law professor at the University of Chicago, said Justice Sotomayor’s dissent was remarkable. It is, he said, “the strongest indication we have yet that the Black Lives Matter movement has made a difference at the Supreme Court — at least with one justice.”

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