Conyers Bill Aims to Reform Asset Forfeiture
From Thu Feb 23 17:53:17 1995
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 17:30:43 -0800
From: Applied Research Center 
Subject: Rapsheet 1

All Points Bulletin:  Conyers Bill Aims to Reform Asset

The Asset Forfeiture laws of 1985 mandate police seizure of
suspected drug traf^ckersU property. Statutes such as these, which
allow the transfer of individualsU money and property to law
enforcement agencies, invite abuses.  Without stringent oversight
and mechanisms, overzealous law enforcement has used the asset
forfeiture programs to violate peopleUs civil rights.

Current Federal laws do not require that a property owner be
convicted of a crime, or even arrested at all, in order for agents
to seize assets: mere suspicion of guilt is enough. You donUt even
have to be directly connected to the alleged crime to have your
assets seized. Under current laws, agents can take any property
they believe might have been purchased with drug money --
regardless of who it belongs to. And once the seizure takes place,
the accused must prove that the items were not purchased with drug
money and must post 10% of the total value of the seized items as
a cash bond.

The only bill that challenges the uncontrolled growth of
forfeiture programs is HR 3347, sponsored by John Conyers (D-MI).
The Conyers bill would require a conviction before items can be
taken. Moreover, agents would only be authorized to seize items
directly connected to the crime. The Conyers bill places the
burden of proof on the government and not the individual.

But what happens once the assets have been forfeited? The Conyers
bill makes the law enforcement agencies more accountable:

* The Department of Justice would publish an annual report of the
money paid to individual informants and maintain data that would
give the race, national origin, gender and age of the people that
had property seized. This measure would help to minimize
discrimination in asset seizure by providing a public record of
law enforcement activity.
* All forfeited items would be transferred directly to state
treasuries and only then be distributed to the state and local law
enforcement agencies. This measure would eliminate a complicated
bureaucracy that currently makes it dif^cult to trace the
whereabouts of forfeited assets. As it stands, it is often
dif^cult to ^nd out just who is pro^ting from the seizures: the
money disappears into the criminal justice system, and no one is
accountable for it.

* Community-based organizations (through crime control, drug
prevention and education programs) would have access to 50% of
federal forfeiture income. This measure, perhaps the most
important of the Conyers plan, would not only give agents less
incentive to engage in pro^teering, but would set a tremendous
precedent: introduce the notion of law enforcement sharing half of
the revenue with communities around the country.

The whole point of the asset forfeiture program was to reduce
crime.  Unfortunately, the system lent itself to abuses: a crime
prevention measure has turned into a form of revenue-farming. The
Conyers bill, by giving power to local organizations and by
curtailing law enforcement excesses, will be an important step in
the right direction.

From Issue #6 of RapSheet, September 1994 Trends in Police Work,
Law Enforcement Reform, & Community Control

Prepared by the Applied Research Center for the Campaign for
Community Safety & Police Accountability