3/1/16 Policing For Profit

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Judith Weise is a 70-year old Illinois woman living alone on a fixed income. For nearly half a year she had to make do without her car.  That’s because Rock Island County authorities seized it.

Wise wasn’t charged or even accused of a crime. Her grandson committed a misdemeanor.

Weise’s grandson had his license suspended over a DUI offense.  He told her he’d taken care of the suspension.  But he hadn’t.

She lent him the car to get to and from work.  Last August he was stopped for a traffic violation. He was arrested after the deputy realized he was driving on a suspended license.  The sheriff seized her car.  The prosecuting attorney filed paperwork to keep it.  Even though the grandson didn’t own it.  And his grandmother didn’t commit a crime.

None of this matters, according to the prosecutor.

Illinois has very harsh civil asset forfeiture laws.  Between 2010 and 2015, Rock Island County authorities made 1200 seizures.  These include two million dollars in cash, 500 vehicles, and 14 properties.

Generally, seized assets are auctioned. In Illinois, local police and prosecutors keep 80 percent of the proceeds.  This is why it’s called “policing for profit.”

[According to Illinois law, money received by law enforcement agencies as a result of civil asset forfeiture, “shall be used for the enforcement of laws governing cannabis and controlled substances or for security cameras used for the prevention or detection of violence.”]

[It’s worth noting that under Illinois law, “civil forfeiture of property which is used or intended to be used in, is attributable to or facilitates the manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution, possession or use of substances in certain violations of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, the Cannabis Control Act, or the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act.”  In other words, civil asset forfeiture is being used for alleged crimes that are not even specified in the law.]

Because this was a civil and not a criminal matter, Weise was not entitled to a court-appointed attorney.  Fortunately, this grandmother convinced a judge to return her car.  But she’s the exception rather than the rule.

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