1/15/15 Asset Seizure

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The 5th Amendment guarantees those accused of a crime to due process.

But a divided Supreme Court last year allowed prosecutors to bypass an accused’s day in court.

The topic is civil asset forfeiture.

In criminal asset forfeiture, the government may seize assets it has shown to be the proceeds of criminal activity.  After there’s been a conviction.

Civil asset forfeiture can occur before someone’s even been tried for a crime.

Federal, state and local police departments keep the proceeds such as cash or the money from the sale of seized assets.  Critics argue padding a department’s budget is a giant incentive to conduct civil asset forfeiture.

[Consider the case of George Reby who was traveling in Tennessee to buy a car.  During a traffic stop, a police officer seized Reby’s $22,000 in cash but, never charged Reby with a crime.  Reby, the officer explained, couldn’t prove the money wasn’t from illegal drug trade even though there was no evidence of drug trafficking and nor was Reby charged with a crime.]

In the Supreme Court case, hospital sales rep Kerri Kaley was accused of stealing medical devices from hospitals.  Kaley claimed she was selling old, discarded devices.  Her defense was bolstered by the fact her co-defendant was acquitted.  Because no hospital claimed the devices were stolen.  But the Supreme Court case wasn’t even about the alleged theft.

Kerri and her husband took out a home equity loan of $500,000 on a home purchased before the alleged crime to pay for her legal defense. The feds froze the money, depriving Kaley from hiring her attorney of choice.  In a Catch-22, the existence of her assets prevented her from getting a pubic defender.

The Supreme Court found the pre-trial seizure constitutional.

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