by Luke Henderson
Civil Asset Forfeiture, one of the country’s most egregious examples of police overreach where law enforcement may seize any property involved in a crime, took a big hit today with the United States Supreme Court’s decision.
The Hill reports that “[…] in 1986 the U.S. Department of Justice reported its Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) took in $93.7 million in proceeds from forfeited assets. By 2014, the AFF hauled in roughly $4.5 billion.” An increase this large would suggest that seizing property of law-breaking citizens has become more and more about funding law enforcement and less about finding evidence of crimes.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, this practice has become more about making profits for police departments, as seized assets do not necessarily have to be returned to citizens and can be sold after conviction. Any dent that can be made to end these unconstitutional laws is great news to the country
The court ruled 7-1 in favor of Shannon Nelson and Louis Alonzo Maddon, who had to pay the state of Colorado thousands of dollars in fees when they were convicted. After the convictions were reversed, the State would not refund them their fees because they had to prove their innocence in civil court.
Colorado’s Exoneration Act requires citizens to file separate civil suits and provide evidence to be have their fees returned. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated in her opinion that “Absent conviction of a crime, one is presumed innocent. Under the Colorado law before us in these cases, however, the State retains conviction-related assessments unless and until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence. This scheme, we hold, offends the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.”
The SCOTUS decisions reinforces that a person is innocent until proven guilty and that they do not have to prove their innocence without conviction and with Sen. Rand Paul’s reintroducing of the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act, complete elimination of police seizure of property may be eliminated.