WS>>FEAR: US WA: Editorial: Civil Wrongs=

carl william spitzer iv cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Mon May 12 14:35:49 MDT 2003

          From: A H Clements <cheechwz at>=

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          Newshawk: Sledhead=
          Author: Michael Zuzel, for the editorial board=
          Bookmark: (Asset  Forfeiture)=

          CIVIL  WRONGS  Initiative To Curb Civil  Forfeiture  Is
     Wrong Tactic For The Right Fight Opponents of civil  forfei-
     ture  laws,  which allow police to seize  personal  property
     even if the owner has not been convicted of a crime, face  a
     tougher sell in post-Sept.  11 America.

          The laws as written have been used mostly in  narcotics
     cases, under the rationale that taking away a dealer's home,
     cars and money is a good way to shut down the drug pipeline.
     But law enforcement officials will surely invoke the specter
     of terrorism as a reason to continue the practice.

          Wisely,  the reformers in Washington state  are  taking
     aim specifically at drug crimes.  Emboldened by last  week's
     passage  of three statewide ballot measures, they're  hoping
     to use the power of initiative to force the Legislature into
     action.  Initiative 256 would require a criminal  conviction
     before any owner's assets could be seized and would  mandate
     the sale, not government use, of forfeited property.

          Even  if  the  initiative  doesn't  gain  the  required
     198,000  signatures by January, state lawmakers should  move
     quickly  to curtail civil forfeiture in drug cases.  It's  a
     practice that not only violates due process but also is ripe
     for abuse.

          Under  current law, police have wide latitude to  seize
     an  individual's property simply by  demonstrating  probable
     cause  that the person committed a crime.  No need  to  wait
     for an actual trial and guilty verdict; under the  probable-
     cause standard, mere suspicion is good enough for  confisca-

          Worse,  current  law allows the local  law  enforcement
     agency  to keep 90 percent of the value of whatever it  con-
     fiscates.   The practice has become a big  business:  State-
     wide, civil forfeiture generates an average of $4 million  a
     year.  In the nine years ending with 2000, the Clark  County
     Sheriff's  Office,  Vancouver Police Department  and  Clark-
     Skamania  Drug Task Force alone collected a total  of  about
     $2.4 million from suspected drug dealers.

          Such a lucrative practice threatens to put profit ahead
     of justice.

          It's  unfortunate that the Legislature hasn't  scrapped
     civil forfeiture already.  Lawmaker had the opportunity last
     session  with  Senate Bill 5935,  which  enjoyed  bipartisan
     support but never emerged from the limbo of the Senate Rules

          Initiative  256  closely mirrors SB 5935,  with  a  few
     exceptions.  Instead of redirecting half the local  proceeds
     from  seized  property to the state  crime  laboratory,  for
     example, the initiative would send that money to the  public
     school fund.

          As  always,  lawmaking by  initiative  creates  fertile
     ground for unintended consequences.  The actual text of  the
     measure  weighs in at almost 5,700 words.  That's more  than
     all  the words on this and the page opposite combined.   How
     many  voters will actually take the time to read the  entire
     initiative before signing?

          If  initiative backers manage to collect the  requisite
     signatures, the Legislature will be required either to adopt
     the initiative, to put it on the ballot or to draft its  own
     alternative, with both versions going to a public vote.

          Voters  should take a pass on the petitions.  But  law-
     makers  had  better  demonstrate that  an  initiative  isn't
          - --- MAP posted-by: Beth

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