I have heard that while people are innocent until proven guilty, property is not. In other words, even if a person is aquitted of a crime their property can still be confiscated. I have heard that if I get pulled over and I have a brand new pipe and a pack of Zig-Zags in the car, the police can potentially confiscate my car. Is this true? Has this really happened to anyone? I would be thankful for any replies on the subject. I just keep getting this image of a cop asking for my keys…
You are partially correct.
Lets start with the scenario you presented. You’re caught with the pipe, but it’s unlikely you’ll lose your car for that. Drug paraphenalia is contextual. If there’s no other evidence of drug use (you’re not stoned and you don’t have any drugs in the car) then you probably won’t get busted, unless you have a VERY over-zealous cop.
Then again, I read that 80% of forfeiture victims never were convicted of any crime. That statistic seems to be suspicioulsy high, so I can’t vouch for its validity. I have read many stories, however of people suspected of drug use, or dealing, whose homes, cars, and buisness were seized by the DEA, and never returned. Some of them never even went to trial.
There’s no real legal recourse for it either. The DEA has the vague and unclear right to recover “costs” of your investigation.
The government may proceed directly against property, thus avoiding the requirement of proving it’s case beyond a reasonable doubt (since it’s a civil matter, not a criminal one, technically). Sleazy? Yes.
BTW, you should read up on the NYC plan to confiscate vehicles of drivers caught SUSPECTED of drunk driving. I swear, Rudy’ll blow it for the Senate yet …
Amazing. I thought that this was just some rumor that just got blown up by repetition. Thanks for the replies. Incidentily, has anyone heard of this happening in a non-drug related crime? It seems to be another attempt by the gov’t to criminalize and punish what should be treated. Those tricky money-suckers.
It happens in other cases, whenever the government can show that the property was used in or procured through a criminal enterprise. Happens in gambling and other smuggling matters, for example, but as a practical matter it is used predominantly in drug cases.
The EPA has similar rights.
Take for example the case of a man named Taung Min Lin who had his new $50,000 tractor confinscated because he alledgedly ran over some endangered rats near Bakerfeild, California.
If you build a house, and the puddle by the foundation under the garden hose is declared a wetland, they can make you tear it down, and restore the land to its “natural state.”
You’d be astonished how often THAT happens.
The BATF confinscates guns all the time from people that are never charged with any crime. You won’t get them back.
Hosep Bajakajian, a Syrian immigrant was going home from LA to his native land. In his suitcase was $350,000 cash, money to repay the relatives who helped him get started in the US. But he hadn’t filled out the proper forms to transport a large amount of cash. Dogs smelled the cash in his suitcase and he was arrested, and the money seized. Since 1994, he has been involved in court battles to get it returned.
There are far too many horror stories for me to include more.
Forfeiture is a relic of the medieval law of “deodand”. It evolved from the medieval supertstion that an inanimate object could be guilty of wrong-doing. Such as, if a man fell out of a tree and died, the tree might be chopped down and burned as a deodand. In early English law, and object that cause the death of another human being was confinscated as a deodand and sold, with its proceeds going to the family of the victim.
Forfeiture for Fun and Profit. Don’t think that that’s not a consideration.
But that’s not all, folks. The good people of the EPA can also rob you of the value of your land by declaring that you can’t use it. And if you sell it, the next owners can’t do anything with it, either. De facto forfeiture. The value of your land is nill.
I believe the EPA is a good thing, but it’s only fair to compensate people for the value of their property if they cannot use it. and it’s also only fair to have your property returned if you are not convicted of any crime.
Hosep Bajakajian, a Syrian immigrant was going home from LA to his native land. In his
suitcase was $350,000 cash, money to repay the relatives who helped him get started in the US. But he hadn’t filled out the proper forms to transport a large amount of cash. Dogs smelled the cash in his suitcase and he was arrested, and the money seized. Since 1994, he has been involved in court battles to get it returned.
My understanding is he won the case a year ago. According to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling:
“The question in this case is whether forfeiture of the entire $357,144 that respondent failed to declare would violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. We hold that it would, because full forfeiture of respondent’s currency would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of his offense.”
See: No. 96-1487: UNITED STATES v. BAJAKAJIAN for more details.
Well, at least it is possible to defeat this in a court. I wonder what sort of legal precedent this case has set, however. Does it have any real impact on the others who have their property confiscated? I mean considering this, can Taung Min Lin get his tractor, or at least a portion of the value, arguing his eighth amendment rights? I’ve recently signed some letters to be sent to my congress-people, but if it’s possible for those that aren’t convicted, or convicted of a minor offence, to get their property back… well, what are people getting so fired up about?
If the case was ruled on a year ago, the presidence has weight in all lower courts. Is this power still being abused?
Maybe due process really does exist in these cases, but I’m still worried about that cop and my car. A congressionally sanctioned law would probably better than just a legal presedence.
Aaag! Second time I’ve posted this. Darn browser crashed!
Okay, yes, it is hypothetically possible to get your property back, BUT . . .
Suing the government for property recover routinely costs about $10,000. Before filing suit, you must post a five thousand dollar bond to cover the governments costs in defending itself against you.
The burden of proof is on YOU. You must prove that you were not involved in any wrong-doing. You have to show more evidence to retrieve your property than the government does to confinscate it.
Take the case of the Farrells from Missouri. A paid informant told them that the Farrells were growing feilds of marijuana on their land, and the cops seized the place without even investigating it first. The case against the Farrells and 34 other people was dropped however when the informant refused to testify, first citing laryingitus, and then total memory loss. The government however refused to return the property until the Pittsburg Press exposed the case. They relented, and made a deal with the Farrells. if they would sign a document, promising not to sue, their property would be returned. The whole mess cost the Farrells almost six thousand dollars in legal fees.
How often does this happen? I haven’t heard of EPA going after homeowners as much as big companies. An exception would be when something has been released at a house. (Mercury, for example)
Once again, if you can’t use the land, the odds are that someone else polluted it. If so, they have to pay to clean it up, and I would imagine you could get some money back from them as well. (I’m not sure if there’s been a case on this - I’ll have to check.) If your property is COMPLETELY unusable and unlivable, EPA will relocate you. However, if you polluted the property yourself, then yeah, EPA will take it and make you pay to clean it up.
I think EPA is a good thing too, and I agree that some of their policies are a wee bit outdated, primarily the current policy of “enforcement first, clean it up later.” However, this might be fixed if Congress would ever get off its ass and reauthorize Superfund…
Whoops, how’d I end up on that soapbox?
“There is such a fine line between stupid and clever.” – David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap
I’m not talking about polluted land . . . I’m talking about land that has been classified as a wetland and Farmer Joe can’t plant on it any more. It’s worthless. You can’t build on it. You can’t plant . . . you can’t disturb it in any way.
Under the 1989 EPA guidelines, any land that has standing water 7 days out of the year is classified as a wetland.
*In Nevada, housing developments in the miidst of cactus are being classified as wetlands because standing water can occur for 7 days in a hold dug for a foundation.
*Ronald Angelocci dumped several truckloadds of dirt in the back yard of his Michigan home because a family member had actue allergies to the weeds in the back yard. He was jailed for violating the Clean Water Act.
- Ocie Mills, a Florida builder and his son were sent to jail for two years for placing clean sand on a quarter-acre lot he owned.
I personally know a guy who bought a $500,000 chunk of what he believed was prime commercial land outside a large city. He owned it for about a year before deciding to start selling it off to buisnesses. The local EPA stepped in and declared about 90% of it a wetland. It’s virtually worthless. He can’t sell it. Who would want undevelopable land? But every year, he pays taxes on it just the same.
Yes, the EPA is a good idea, but we need to compensate people for their losses.
Oh man, Lissa. I didn’t realize crap like that happened. I’m a consultant for EPA, so usually I see the other side. However, I agree with you here - those cases are insane. Maryland has laws like that too - if they think you’re near a wetland, especially one near the Chesapeake Bay, forget about building on it.
As for compensation, I agree it would be nice, and I think EPA should compensate the landowners, but I don’t think it would ever happen. EPA doesn’t have enough money to clean up sites now. It isn’t likely that they’d have money to give back to the landowners. It would be the right thing to do, however.
“There is such a fine line between stupid and clever.” – David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap
[[I’m not talking about polluted land . . . I’m talking about land that has been classified as a wetland and Farmer Joe can’t plant on it any more. It’s worthless. You can’t build on it. You can’t plant . . . you can’t disturb it in any way.]] Lissa
Just without a permit.
[[Ronald Angelocci dumped several truckloadds of dirt in the back yard of his Michigan home because a family member had actue allergies to the weeds in the back yard. He was jailed for violating the Clean Water Act.]]
He was jailed, huh? If so, it was because a judge had already ordered him not to do it and he did it anyway like an asshole dipshit.
[[ Ocie Mills, a Florida builder and his son were sent to jail for two years for placing clean sand on a quarter-acre lot he owned.]]
[[I personally know a guy who bought a $500,000 chunk of what he believed was prime commercial land outside a large city. He owned it for about a year before deciding to start selling it off to buisnesses. The local EPA stepped in and declared about 90% of it a wetland. It’s virtually worthless. He can’t sell it. Who would want undevelopable land? But every year, he pays taxes on it just the same. ]]
Aside from the fasct that the guy’s beef is with the valuation re the tax bill, what kind of moron buys land without investigating these things?
[[Yes, the EPA is a good idea, but we need to compensate people for their losses.]]
Not nearly as often as some people would have you believe, since often these alleged “losses” are completely bogus.
I’ve seen it happen many times. Another man I know was fined $5,000 for building up a creek bank on his property. No one had ever told him that he couldn’t do that.
The friend that bought the $500,000 property which is now useless . . . he did do the research on the property. It was about a year afterwards that the local EPA reclassified it as a wetland.
Not fictionn…just another great big LIE. If it weren’t a lie, then NOBODY would be in jail until they were convicted.
In this country, it’s EVERYONE is GUILTY UNTIL THEY CAN PROVE THEY AREN’T.
<< If it weren’t a lie, then NOBODY would be in jail until they were convicted. >>
No one said anything about innocent people not being tried, or held for trial. The point about “guilty until proved innocent” means that the burden of proof rests with the prosecution – they must prove that you are guilty. You do not need to prove that you are innocent. Witness OJ Simpson.
It sounds like the EPA has tremendous power with no legal recourse for any of their decisions.
If I disagree with an IRS audit, I have the option of taking them to tax court. If I disagree with an EPA decision, is there some analogous kind of court I have the option of appealing to?
Yes. But I’ll need to do a little research to find it. Most national EPA decisions deal with cleaning up land - these can (and have been) contested by the owner and taken to court. I’m not as sure about state EPA decisions (which are usually the agencies to declare something a wetland, btw.), but I think there is an analogous process. I’ll check a few sources around here and let you know.
Admittedly, my side will be coming from the EPA (I’m a consultant), so I’d be interested in hearing what any lawyers (and I know there are a few of you on this board!) had to say.
“You don’t get something for nothing. You can’t have freedom for free.”
-Neil Peart, RUSH, “Something for Nothing”
Your best bet would be to file some sort of injunction in the Federal District Court in your area using the Administrative Procedures Act. You have to prove that a decision by an EPA official was arbitrary and caprious. It is a burdensome standard and you better be prepared to file some FOIAs [Freedom of Information Act requests.]
The injunction would prevent anyone from doing anything until you have your day in court. The other problem is ripeness, is the situation at the stage where there is no going back.
Of course I may be wrong.
Falcon – what branch of the EPA (state or federal) do you consult for? (You can e-mail me the answer if you want – I would’ve e-mailed the question but you didn’t have that option available.)
“The best medicine for misery is neither myth nor miracle, but naked truth.”
– Richard Walker, The Running Dogs of Loyalty: Honest Reflections on a Magical Zoo