True Crime Thursday – Property Seizure

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Can police take your property even if you haven’t been arrested or convicted of a crime? The disturbing answer is yes, according to this story from South Carolina:

https://www.greenvilleonline.com/in-depth/news/taken/2019/01/27/civil-forfeiture-south-carolina-police-property-seizures-taken-exclusive-investigation/2457838002/

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About Debbie Burke

Crime novelist, suspense and mystery novels are her passion. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Her nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications and she is a regular blogger at The Kill Zone. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

6 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – Property Seizure

  1. Most of these actions by the police and governmental bodies may well be takings of property without due process of law and therefore unconstitutional.

    With a nod to criminal-law.freeadvice.com, I quote from their website:

    “Asset forfeiture can take place in both criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, an asset forfeiture action concerns the seizure of property seen as either having been used in a crime or the “fruit” of a crime. In such an action, your vehicle has been seized, not you. Since, the lawsuit concerns property, it falls into the category of a civil suit

    It is not actually correct to say that no trial is required for property to be seized. Under constitutional law, property cannot be seized unless due process of law is first adhered to, including a trial when a party is contesting the government action. The lawsuit is actually against your property, and you, the individual seeking to get it back, are a third party to the case.”

    Very true that many of victims do not have the resources to contest these wrongs. and insist on a trail with legal counsel at hand. The ACLU, law school or other legal aid clinics, and groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center with its $470M endowment (though now in some disrepute due resignations of its top two leaders) might be able to help in some cases. But I’m afraid we need a change in our political climate. For a dystopian, but largely accurate, take on our criminal justuice and prison system, among other things, I recommend Chris Hedges’ “America: The Farewell Tour”.

    • David, thanks for commenting.

      My concern is for innocent people with limited means who must pay an attorney to sue to get their property back from governmental entities with comparatively unlimited means.

      I’m not a lawyer but I see this as a Fourth Amendment issue. Maybe some of TKZ’s readers who are attorneys would like to weigh in?

  2. I plead guilty to being a lawyer for 53 years including a year and half as a supervising attorney in a law school student attorney legal clinic handling some criminal cases.

    That, of course, does not make me an expert in criminal law, but you are absolutely right that the 4th Amendment on privacy is implicated by government property seizures.

    Here’s a discussion from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute:

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/fourth_amendment

    Also implicated are the Fifth and 14th Amendments re criminal proceedings and takings of private property w/o just compensation, and again here’s Cornell’s discussion:

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fifth_amendment

    Finally, there’s the Sixth Amendment on the right to legal counsel in criminal cases, relevant in property seizure relating to alleged criminal activity and Cornell’s treatment of the subject:

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment

    You are correct about the stacked deck in favor of the government against the man or woman on the street and the practical difficulties in realizing the benefit of these rights, including obtaining competent counsel and dealing with the increasing conservatism and political bias of the judiciary, both in Federal and state courts. Representing yourself may be the only option and even of lawyers, it has been said:

    “The lawyer who represents himself/herself has a fool for a client.”

    Public resources should be available for both criminal and civil case legal defense for those who can’t afford it in important cases like forfeiture or taking of private property, but public resources for anything not related to the military, national security and other foreign adventures are exceedingly scarce. Don’t get me started on that.

    But it makes me think about whether we’re headed for “pre-crime” types of secret criminal proceedings so starkly portrayed in Philip Dick’s short story, “The Minority Report” (1956). Think “War on Terror” and the secret Federal Courts handling these cases.

    • I had a sneaking suspicion you might be an attorney, David. Thanks for the additional cites. I did not know the Patriot Act had been replaced by the Freedom Act. And I had not considered the just compensation issue. So you taught me a lot today.

      “Policing for Profit” is a process that’s ripe for abuse and corruption. Also fertile ground for fiction writers.

      Looking up Philip Dick’s story. Thanks, David!

      • You’re welcome, Debbie, and thank you for raising this important subject, indeed rich grist for both nonfiction and fiction writing.

        “Amen” on abuse and corruption in our criminal justice and “corrections” system, now with the highest incarcerated rate in the world. Per Wikipedia, “. . . while the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.”
        .
        One can add exploitation of, and thievery from, prisoners to the list:

        https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-prison-state-of-america/

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