Billions of dollars are seized every year across the United States by police agencies from innocent people in both assets and money. This is a situation that police agencies have gotten away with for decades of collecting money and assets from people who have not been convicted of any crimes.
In towns and cities nationwide law enforcement officials use civil forfeiture and in rare instances, the innocent victims of this practice are able to have their money and assets returned. This practice brings in large profits that was designed to be used to bring down mob bosses, gangs and drug cartels. Instead in a 12 page report by Sarah Stillman published in the New Yorker these agencies often target innocent parties driving them to poverty.
According to Stillman the confiscated money and property that is obtained even through unlawful mean is used in the fight against crime in many states. She goes on to explain the U.S. Department of Justice using civil forfeiture went from 25 million dollars over 30 years to $4.2 billion dollars during the past year. The money is used for police salaries and annual bonuses. The innocent victims of civil forfeiture by a police agency have no recourse without a highly experienced attorney and resources.
Another issue Stillman reveals is that both state and federal agencies use civil forfeiture with a broad scope, which permits people to be wrongly impacted by this law, since the party does not need to be found guilty for assets and cash to be claimed by law enforcement agencies. She states that in some states probable cause is enough and the party does not have to be accused, charged or convicted of a criminal offense before property is confiscated in a civil forfeiture.
Stillman provides in her report several situations in different states where these practices were used to claim millions of dollars. An elderly couple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania lost their home in a seizure after their son was accused of selling $20 of marijuana from the porch of the property. In Virginia a Pentecostal church secretary was stopped for speeding by a state trooper and had $28,500 in donations and his vehicle seized. The attorney for the church secretary David Smith stated they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the money belonged to the church.
Between 2008 and 2012 in Philadelphia, according to a report published in ProPublica in 2,000 civil forfeiture cases the judge in only 30 cases rejected the seizure of property. This shows even courts cannot be depended on in a claim of this kind to be lenient. Isaiah Thompson of ProPublica talked about a Philadelphia case in which the police attempted to seize a home of a man’s grandmother after her 24 year old grandson was charged with selling cocaine.
According to police unused packets, without drugs were found in a rear bedroom. The grandmother Rochelle Bing was not present in the home and was not accused of a crime, but soon afterward received a letter of forfeiture from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Larger cases are seen at the federal level more in accordance with what Congress intended with establishing the law.