As readers might expect, evidence that is implicated in an alleged drug offense may be seized and taken into custody. However, a recent article suggests that some seized property may be going to pay law enforcement officers’ salaries.
In one county, for example, the local narcotics unit sized $666,427 in cash and used over half of it — $426,058 — to pay salaries. Under a federal program called equitable sharing, local and/or state officers that partner with a federal agency may be allowed to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property.
What’s even more troubling is that a property owner may have to forfeit his or her property to law enforcement officials, even if that seizure is not followed by an arrest or a specific criminal charge. The doctrine, called civil forfeiture, can be confusing, but essentially amounts to a government suit against the property, rather than the owner.
As a criminal defense attorney knows, the Fourth Amendment provides a constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the context under which property becomes seized under civil forfeiture may be outside the scope of those procedural protections.
The penalties for drug crimes can be serious, involving hefty fines and long sentences. Yet those potential penalties should not intimidate an individual into ignoring his rights or being intimidated into the position of civil forfeiture. With the help of an experienced drug crimes lawyer, an accused can build a strong legal defense, hold prosecutors to their burden of proof, and hopefully obtain a more positive outcome.
Source: Forbes, “Cops In Texas Seize Millions By ‘Policing for Profit’,” Nick Sibilla, June 5, 2014