It is long past time to reinstate the Fourth Amendment guarantee to be free of warrantless searches and seizures

Civil asset forfeiture has turned into a fundraising scam for federal and local law enforcement agencies, who use the excuse that seized cash, cars and homes are the product of suspected criminal endeavors and thus forfeitable to the government, usually the agency doing the seizing.

It is happening in jurisdictions all across the nation and here in Nevada. A year ago a deputy in Humboldt County pulled over a California tourist in a rental car and grabbed $50,000 in cash that the tourist said he won in a casino. The tourist sued and eventually got his cash back.

Deputy with K-9 and $50,000 in seized cash.

The day after that tourist’s money was seized, Humboldt County Sheriff Ed Kilgore sent out a news release along with a photo of the deputy posing with the cash and a police dog. “This cash would have been used to purchase illegal drugs and now will benefit Humboldt County with training and equipment,” the release boasted. “Great job.”

According to a dashcam recording, the tourist asked what reason he was being searched, and the deputy replied, “Because I’m talking to you … well, no, I don’t have to explain that to you. I’m not going to explain that to you, but I am gonna put my drug dog on that (pointing to money). If my dog alerts, I’m seizing the money. You can try to get it back but you’re not.”

He also told the tourist, “You’ll burn it up in attorney fees before we give it back to you.”

A couple of months later another man had cash seized by the same deputy.

In Texas a couple of years ago police seized cash from a couple who said they were to use it to buy a car at their destination.

In Massachusetts a motel was seized because drugs had taken place there, though the owners were in no way involved.

In Philadelphia a couple’s home was seized because, unbeknownst to them, their son sold a small quantity of drugs on the front porch.

And you thought the Fourth Amendment guaranteed:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Oh, but it is not a criminal case. No one need ever be arrested. The money and property are the guilty parties until proven innocent, if that is ever possible.

According to a recent Investor’s Business Daily editorial, the Justice Department’s forfeiture fund has gone from $94 million in 1986 to more than $1 billion today.

In Philadelphia, the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties law firm, has taken the police to court to try to stop what one judge called state-sanctioned theft.

IJ has three clients, all of whom had their homes seized by police. In each case the police claim the property was used to commit minor drug crimes, none of which involve the actual owners.

“The class-action lawsuit challenges several aspects of Philadelphia’s forfeiture scheme. First, Philadelphia routinely seeks orders authorizing its officials to ‘seize and seal’ homes and other real properties — which they accomplish by throwing people, like Chris Sourovelis and their families, out onto the streets,” IJ reports. “But the city does not provide the families with any notice when it seeks such an order, and the homeowners never get a chance to argue why they should not be evicted before they are thrown out.”

A bill also has been introduced in Congress to reform the law.

The Nevada Legislature should take this matter into its own hands and create a law that prohibits the seizure of private property without proper warrants and reasonable cause. Nevadans should not be forced to hire expensive lawyers and spend years in the courts to prove their property is innocent. It is a matter of due process.

9 comments on “It is long past time to reinstate the Fourth Amendment guarantee to be free of warrantless searches and seizures

  1. Steve says:

    It’s worse than that.

    If you purchase any used item from anywhere which was ever used during the commission of any crime, that item may be confiscated and you will have to prove it was “cleared” before you bought it.

    This crap has been in place since the 1960’s and it is way beyond time for it to be brought to a sudden and unceremonious end.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Constitution? We don’t need no stinking Constitution!

  3. iShrug says:

    I remember when this incident occurred. The unmitigated gall of the Deputy, flat out stealing this man’s money, without even charging him is shocking. The man was never asked for permission to search. Even while knowing his. actions were being recorded, the Deputy blatantly extorted $50K in cash. I never knew drug deals were done using cashier’s checks! It was obvious this was business as usual in Humboldt County.

    The police are supposedly there “to protect and to serve.” Not to extort property from citizens. How are we supposed to respect them or the law, when they don’t even respect the US Constitution? Is it any wonder why even law abiding citizens are down on the cops? Dash cams and lapel cams are needed for all cops. I’m thinking of getting one for myself.

  4. bc says:

    iShrug, here in Illinois, if you record a police officer doing his duty without his permission it is a felony. The legislature talks about repealing that law each year but they cannot bring themselves to do it.

  5. iShrug says:

    bc, is it any wonder they can’t bring themselves to do it? It might assist in a citizen’s defense case. The cops hold all the cards here. Then an officer shoots and kills an unarmed person, and they wonder why people are “skeptical?”

  6. bc says:

    Chicago PD does not have a great reputation and some of the suburb PDs are little more than keystone cops. The idea of accountability with citizens taking video drives the police unions straight to the legislature and that is the end of that.

    The whole seizure issue that Tom talks about is more of the same cops out of control. I still cannot believe that the Supreme Court goes along with it.

  7. A felony to record a cop?

  8. Steve says:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/supreme-court-recording-police_n_2201016.html

    Yes, a felony. Illinois has been trying to use the wiretapping law to prevent people recording police on the streets.
    Based on the idea that both parties must be fully informed of such recording taking place. Illinois police are spinning that law to death.

  9. Winston Smith says:

    Maybe the 9th and 10th Amendments have been hidden away in the same place as the 4th…

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