Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pre-vacation Police State bulletin

Apologies for the continued light posting. Day job, etc. Also, next week I will be on a beach in the tropics sipping pina coladas and lukewarm beer, so no posting at all. I even don't know if my phone will work down there, but I'm not taking it in any event, so don't expect blog posts, emails, phone calls, or really any communication whatsoever. Right now I'm at the point where I go to sleep considering the wording of certain contract provisions, and wake up babbling incoherent corporate-speak (as if there is any other kind).

Anyway.

If you haven't checked out Robert Guest's spiffy new Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog (formerly I Was The State), then you should. Robert is on the front lines fighting for freedom every day. In his case, this is not an overly dramatic way of describing what he does.

A couple of recent posts of his got my attention. First, he comments on a speed trap on I-45 in a town called Ferris. Apparently the town of Ferris (pop. 2,157) generates $720,000 of income per year in traffic tickets. While Robert comments generally on how outrageous this is, and notes that a state law prohibits ticket quotas, I was reminded of a state law passed a number of years ago which specifically prohibited a municipality from retaining any revenue from traffic tickets which exceeds 30% of its previous year's total revenue. This law was specifically aimed at preventing small towns from raising money from speed traps. (too tired to wade through The Google much, but here's a re-post (original not available) of a Houston Chronicle article which reported on this law).

So... how does Ferris legally do this? I don't know... but concerning small town policies regarding raising revenue from traffic fines, a while back I was talking to a guy who was a city council member of a small town. He told me that the city had no express policy in this regard, and no one ever overtly discussed it, but he said that when it came budget time, and the police chief came before the council to argue for his budget allocation, the city's top-level budget spreadsheet always had the line for the police department's budget immediately adjacent to the line for the revenue generated by traffic fines. My buddy told me that this was certainly no coincidence.

Second, Robert comments on the case of Henry Doke, who is fighting to prevent forfeiture to the state of some real estate property he owns. The state has determined that someone unaffiliated in any way with Mr. Doke had at some point used the property to engage in "drug activity". Under our wise and prescient civil asset forfeiture laws, this means that Mr. Doke's property is now (or soon will be) the property of the state.

Clearly this is a stupid outcome, which is a direct and foreseeable result of a stupid legislative framework. But it doesn't stop there. As I noted in a comment at The Agitator today:
Civil forfeiture can [without violating the U.S. Constitution] be used to seize property owned by people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the commission of the crime.

I wrote a law review article (not available online) on the case of Bennis v. Michigan. The ruling in this SCOTUS case states that cars (and presumably all other kinds of property, including houses) can be forfeited to the state even when the owners were not themselves engaged in the crime. In the facts of the case, the wife of an accused John was trying to prevent the forfeiture of her car in a prostitution case. The car was community property (i.e., making her half owner). [Obviously she did not participate in this crime, and had no knowledge of it, and furthermore, because the car was half-owned (i.e., owned "in common") by the husband, she had no power to limit his usage of it. (and as the opinion made clear, even if she had been the sole owner of the car it would not have prevented forfeiture)]

Needless to say, the state won, thereby adding injury to the woman’s insult. A ridiculous outcome. One of the hypotheticals arising in the case was the idea that a homeowner could lose their home to the state by virtue of one of their teenage children (or a friend of a teenage child), without the knowledge of the homeowner, being caught smoking a joint in the house. The justices opined that the judgment (and professionalism!) of prosecutors and law enforcement could be relied upon to ensure that such an injustice does not occur. Heh.

Of course, no prosecutor has yet had the temerity to take someone's house because someone smoked a joint in it. The operative word in that sentence being "yet". Because, as with all government powers, if they have it, rest assured they will -- eventually -- use it.

10 comments:

Gleemonex said...

Ever since I read Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness, this is the type of law that keeps me up at night. Seriously. What a fucking outrage! And what remedy do we have? Apparently NONE.

Robert Guest said...

Thanks HHL.

Daily copy is hard sometimes. I'm glad to know you appreciate my material.

That, and editing in Movable Type is a bitch.

Thanks again,

RG

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