Forfeiture Reform Group
by John Paff
Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (F.E.A.R.) is an organization dedicated to reforming state and federal forfeiture laws. If you're not convinced that forfeiture statutes are in need of reform, read the following quote from -- United States v. One 1982 Chevrolet Corvette -- a forfeiture case decided in 1992 by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (976 F.2d 392):
In a civil forfeiture proceeding, the Government must establish probable cause that the property was used or intended to be used for an unlawful purpose. The Government must show more than mere suspicion but less than prima facie proof, and it may use hearsay to establish probable cause. Once the government meets this burden, the burden shifts to the party opposing forfeiture to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that the property is not subject to forfeiture. (citations omitted)
In another case, -- United States v. Sandini -- (816 F.2d 869) the Third Circuit Court of Appeals bluntly held that in a federal forfeiture action, "the innocence of the owner is irrelevant."
Not surprisingly, police agencies around the country have been using these sweeping seizure powers to intimidate, harrass and abuse law-abiding citizens. The lure of forfeiture is causing widespread police corruption, causing Elvin Martinez, a Florida legislator who drafted that state's forfeiture law to remark "Our earnest expectation was that [Florida's state forfeiture law] would be used to specially target the criminal hierarchy that had so long evaded criminal sanctions. But before long, we began to see the operation of Lord Acton's famous axiom: that power 'tends to corrupt.' .. Those who lacked the capacity to fight back became the targets of opportunity in a system that seemed to lose sight of its original goal and began to see forfeiture as a source of agency funding rather than a crime fighting tool." Prior to making the above statements, Martinez was awarded the "Crime Fighter of the Year" award by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. F.E.A.R. has helped get forfeiture reform legislation introduced in the Congress (H.R. 3347 and H.R. 2417) and has spearheaded similar efforts in state legislatures. Anybody who has any questions, comments or who would like a complementary issue of our newsletter is invited to write to us at P.O. Box 5424, Somerset, NJ 08875-5424, or e-mail us at [email protected].
F.E.A.R. would like your help in working for forfeiture reform. You can help by: