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 mindspring.com>=
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Author: Michael Zuzel, for the editorial board=
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/af.htm (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
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
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
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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