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Editor/Founder: Bill Smith, Ph.D. [aka: OzarkGuru & 2010 AFP National Blogger of the Year]
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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nebraska Becomes Third State To Abolish Asset Forfeiture

by Brittany Hunter: Civil asset forfeiture, a practice which allows law enforcement to seize your property without convicting you of a crime, has been getting a great deal of pushback from the American public this year. Already, states like Mississippi and Florida have sought to rein in the process of asset forfeiture by adding more transparency to the process, as well as limiting when law enforcement has the right to seize property.

Recently, Nebraska added its name to the lists of states looking to reform asset forfeiture laws. Last Tuesday, Nebraska Governor, Pete Ricketts, signed a bill into law that would essentially eliminate civil asset forfeiture in his state. The bill, Legislative Bill 1106, passed by a vote of 38 to 8 in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature.

The legislative enthusiasm for the bill might be somewhat correlated to the Nebraska’s questionable record when it comes to asset forfeiture. In 2013, a Peruvian pastor had $14,000 seized during a routine traffic stop. Traveling to a church event with his fiancé, Pastor Marco Silva, a citizen of Peru but legally present in the United States, was pulled over for “failure to signal lane change.” Silva is in the United States specifically to raise awareness and funds for an orphanage in Peru and as such, frequently carries large amounts of cash on him.

Even though Pastor Silva was not cited for his traffic violation, law enforcement officials still asked to search the vehicle. When Pastor Silva complied and the $14,000 in donations was found, the officers asked Silva if he was engaging in drug or human trafficking. Shocked by these allegations, Silva and his fiancé tried to explain the situation, but instead had the donations seized and spent four hours behind bars until a clean background check resulted in their release.

If not for intervention from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the pastor may never have regained control over the money seized by police officers. In fact, most victims of asset forfeiture have to go through many legal hoops just to regain a portion of their seized property.

Additionally, last year a federal appellate court upheld Nebraska law enforcement official’s decision to seize $63,000 in savings from a decorated Air Force veteran. After being pulled over by local Nebraska law enforcement officials on his way to put a down payment on a home in Los Angeles, the officer on duty believed he smelled marijuana in the car of former military police officer and weapons specialist, Mark Brewer. Though no drugs were found in the car, officers discovered books in Brewer’s vehicle that were written on drug-related topics. This was enough evidence for the courts to uphold the decision to seize the $63,530 that Brewer had saved from his military service and disability payments.

The new law will make it much harder for law enforcement officials to abuse asset forfeiture. In fact, under the new law, Nebraska requires a criminal conviction before any property can be seized. Since neither Pastor Silva nor Mark Brewer were convicted of a crime, the new law would prevent similar situations from occurring.

Additionally, the new law requires that the accused be convicted of an offense involving illegal drugs, child pornography, or illegal firearms before property can be taken. Nebraska joins 9 other states who also require criminal convictions before asset forfeiture can occur. Since a major component of asset forfeiture is the fact that the accused have not yet been convicted of a crime, Nebraska joins North Carolina and New Mexico as the third state to essentially abolish the practice of asset forfeiture altogether.

Recently, the United States Justice Department (DOJ) reinstated its asset forfeiture program. The “equitable sharing program,” as it is called, effectively allows state and local law enforcement to bypass restrictions on the practice of asset forfeiture in their state. By circumventing state laws, the federal government seeks to incentivize local law enforcement by offering to “share” a percentage of the seized property or money with them.

In spite of the DOJ’s attempts to undermine the states, Nebraska’s new legislation reflects the country’s sentiment against civil asset forfeiture. With the federal government continuing this controversial practice, safeguards on the state and local level are even more vital to the fight against asset forfeiture.
Brittany Hunter is a Staff Contributor at Generation Opportunity who shared this article with the ARRA News Service.

Tags: Nebraska, third state, abolish, asset forfeiture, Brittany Hunter, Generation Opportunity To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 12:00 PM - Post Link


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