Asset Forfeiture Reform Activists Reignite Debate for Reform in Missouri
There's nothing illegal about police taking property of people suspected of a crime -- even when those people have not been convicted of anything. In criminal forfeiture cases, a crime must be proven before property can be seized. But in civil forfeiture cases, in which drug cops are often involved, one has to merely be suspected of wrongdoing for assets to be taken away.
However, with perception of drug laws changing, the question of whether cops should be allowed to confiscate property has gained some steam.
A Massachusetts hotel owner who challenged police after they tried to confiscate his $1.5 million property has recently gained national attention. Last week Minnesota lawmakers were praised by property rights groups after that state passed a law that would require a person to be convicted of a crime or to have plead guilty for their property to be seized.
And last year Georgia lawmakers were criticized for failing to raise the burden of proof for a legitimate property seizure, despite corruption in how the money was spent, which included a district attorney there dipping into the fund to spend "$2,700 on wrought-iron security doors for his house" and "$4,450 worth of tickets to the Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic," reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Here in Missouri, forfeiture reform activists are questioning whether state drug task forces could even exist without seized assets.
In a recent blog post by Eapen Thampy, the executive director of Americans for Forfeiture Reform, that question is asked in light of a 2012 audit of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force.
According to the audit, which was originally obtained through a Sunshine request from Aaron Malin, the executive director of Equality MO (both Malin and Thampy also work with Show-Me Cannabis), the total amount for SEMO's seized assets were valued at $198,000, with only $10,000 of that amount coming from "state assets." The rest came from the federal program used to bypass state restrictions.
In total, seized assets represented about 20 percent of SEMO Drug Task Force's budget.
"It's time for Missouri to really evaluate how we're conducting asset forfeiture in the state," Thampy tells Daily RFT, adding that the state should abolish the federal asset sharing practice and improve oversight of drug task forces.
We reached out to the SEMO Drug Task Force for comment, but they have not returned any calls.
However, one Missouri drug task force has been in the news recently, claiming that federal and state budget cuts have had a negative impact on their funding. The KRCG 13 report can be seen below.
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