Currently, in many states, civil asset forfeiture allows police to take possession of an owner’s property if items are suspected to be associated with a crime—e.g., money, automobiles and housing! More, they don’t even have to charge a suspect—this is often the norm. Senator Eric Brakey (R-ME) is out to change all that with Senate Bill 888 (proposed on March 7th).
Brakey and bill supporters are pushing for legitimate charges to be pressed on US citizens before authorities seize their belongings. Brakey’s bill also seals off the loophole enabling local authorities to slip past state law and involve federal agents.
“Barring state and local-law enforcement agencies from passing off cases to the feds is particularly important,” Tenth Amendment Center’s Mark Maharrey wrote. “In several states with strict asset-forfeiture laws, prosecutors have done just that. By placing the case under federal jurisdiction, law enforcement can bypass the need for a conviction under state law and collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited assets via the federal Equitable Sharing Program.”
As it stands, Maine’s police departments can’t legally keep their quasi-pirate booty—this at least decreases the “police for profit” epidemic that’s affecting states across the US. But it doesn’t battle Maine authorities’ minimized protocol for property forfeiture—no conviction necessary and the least amount of safeguards for any third parties who are innocent in a given, legal matter.
The Institute for Justice availed that while the New England state mandates their police departments keep a ledger of obtained items, they neither have to report anything to a state-government agency nor post anything online—little to no accountability there. According to Maine’s DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) 2009-2013 records, there’s over $1.5 million in seized, cash money. However, no records were found in terms of seized non-monetary items—physical property is often sold to the highest bidder. (…wonder where that money goes?)
But Maine’s not the only state enduring this issue—it’s a national ordeal. Two-thousand-fourteen takes the trophy for US-law enforcement seizing cash and property via civil assets forfeiture—even more than traditional theft and burglary! That’s right; the cops stole more than the crooks did in 2014. (Take a minute to process that.) More, the current state of affairs unequally affects African Americans and Latinos—it’s not just a cultural barrier that prevents them from getting ahead in their towns. In Oklahoma, a study availed racial-minority-related seizures make up two-thirds of civil-asset-forfeiture intake.
If S.B. 888 is voted in, Maine’s cops lose their power to take non-convicted-crime possession of US citizens’ belongings—basically the death of civil-asset forfeiture and the birth of criminal-asset forfeiture. The decision’s going down on March 31st.