Why asset forfeiture laws need to be repealed

It pains me to say this, and I hope nobody out here ever needs this advice. If you ever get arrested in Wisconsin, don’t post bail in cash. In fact, if you cannot post bail with a bail bondsman (Wisconsin is one of four states that don’t allow them; Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon) and most post using actual money, pay with a registered check, cashier’s check, or a credit/debit card.

This recent Huffington Post story tells the tale of Joel and Beverly Greer. The timeline of the events is as follows: Joel gets arrested for a drug charge (not specified in the story), Beverly (his wife) goes to post the $7,500 bail in cash, the cops have drug dogs sniff the money, and then use the dog alerting on the presence of narcotics on the bills as a pretext to keep the money under asset forfeiture laws–without accepting it as bail for Joel.

Something similar happened to Jesus Zamora, who was arrested on a drug possession charge and a gun charge. From the article:

“My girlfriend borrowed some money from her sister and mother and a few friends, and they came to bail me out,” Zamora says. “But then they started asking her if she had brought drug money. They took the money away and said they were going to have the drug dogs sniff it. She asked them when I would be let out, and they told her, ‘He isn’t going anywhere’.”

Most alarming, however, is this quote later in the story:

Brown County Drug Task Force Director Lt. Dave Poteat says the dog alerts were not the only factors. According to Poteat, the Greers and Zamora’s girlfriend appeared nervous when they brought in the bail money. “Their stories didn’t add up. Their ATM receipts had the wrong times on them. And they were withdrawing from several different locations. The times just didn’t correspond to their stories.”

My question for Lt. Poteat: Who would not be a little nervous holding that kind of cash? Should I have my family send in an android to post my bail (that I have programmed never to appear nervous)?

Poteat says an additional reason Zamora’s bail money was confiscated was because during calls from the jail to multiple people, he indicated that the money was drug-related. “Mr. Zamora made a number of calls in which he appeared to be trying to disguise or hide where the money was coming from,” Poteat says. “At one point, he even said to another party, ‘of course the money is dirty.'”

Now, Jesus has a reason to say that, given that numerous studies have indicated that well over a majority of the bills in circulation–a 1994 ruling from the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited studies showing 75%, more recent studies in 2008 and 2009 have found as many as 90%–have traces of drugs on them. But, taken out of context, ‘of course the money is dirty’ is a convenient excuse to say it’s drug money.

Here’s one for Lt. Poteat: Go take $500 or more out of your bank account, and see if the drug dogs alert on it. Now, imagine you’re just an average citizen without a badge, and that’s $500 you are using to post bail for a family member, and the cops take that $500 and keep it under the pretense of it being drug money, without releasing the person you’re trying to make bail for.

But the real reason we need to get rid of asset forfeiture laws: especially in cases like this, the amount most attorneys want to take the case exceeds the amount at stake. And, at least in Wisconsin, an indigent defendant in an asset forfeiture case is not entitled to a public defender.

Basically, for law enforcement agencies, it’s a license to steal. They won’t call it that, but that’s what it is. Arrest the money, the owner has no right to a public defender; arrest the suspect, he does. (Of course, there’s nothing stopping them from arresting both.)

Attorney Steven Kessler is quoted later in the story on contested asset forfeiture cases:

“I would think that one of these cases would be the perfect opportunity for a court to impose punitive damages against the police department[.] … You need to make it clear that it would be damaging for the police to attempt this sort of thing in the future. Considering how appalling these cases are, I don’t see why a court couldn’t do that.”

Of course, the problem is that it usually doesn’t come to that. And in a lot of these smaller counties, the cops, the prosecutors, and the judges are often on a first-name basis with each other. In theory, the judges are impartial. In practice, the judge, DA, and police chief are often fishing buddies. How often do you think a judge is going to fillet his fishing buddy in open court? Honestly, I think I have better chances of winning a large lottery prize.

Cop fibs about his identity, then gets promoted

Is there something in the water in New Zealand I don’t know about? Because this is so far “out there” it’s not funny.

The Wellington, New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post (story posted online by stuff.co.nz) reported on the antics of one officer Aaron Bateman, who apparently had no moral or ethical qualms about fibbing about his identity when stopped for a council bylaws violation (towing a person without an observer). Mr. Bateman gave the name of a friend, who was shocked to get the citation, and Mr. Bateman went as far as to call the incident a “practical joke gone wrong.”

The limit of Mr. Bateman’s punishment by the council was a (NZ)$200 fine on top of the original violation’s (NZ)$200 fine. From the article:

Rotorua area commander Inspector Bruce Horne said Mr Bateman did not commit a criminal offence, but acknowledged he had breached a council bylaw.

“The actions of the officer involved were clearly not of the high standards the police expect, and he was subject to an internal code of conduct investigation.”

Mr Horne said he was “bound by employment law”, which meant he could not reveal the outcome of the investigation.

But this is the most shocking part:

Three months after the incident, sources have revealed Mr Bateman has been promoted from constable to sergeant.

Promoted? Seriously?

I’d like to know what they were thinking when they decided to promote someone who had committed a breach of the public trust, criminal offense or not. This course of events is outrageous enough reading about it thousands of miles away. Is it any wonder we have cops thinking the badge is a “get away with it” card all over the globe, when things like this happen?

The right thing to do, at minimum, is strip Mr. Bateman of his promotion immediately and apologize to the citizens of Wellington and the Rotorua district. I have serious doubts that someone willing to lie to escape a small fine has any business carrying a badge and a gun and enforcing the law.