Just one recent example of a long, long list regarding a terrible program. Some background:
So one of the biggest, under-the-radar issues
at hand in police work is civil asset forfeiture. For those who don't know that this exists, if the police have probable cause to believe any of your property has been involved in the commission of a crime, even if you're never convicted of that crime, the property can be taken by police. It started with a 1970 to confiscate mafia money, which was expanded in 1978 to include drug crimes, and in 1984 the Comprehensive Crime Control Act expanded that even further. The key lies in the 1984 language, which gives a large part of the forfeited funds back to the local law enforcement
The CATO Institute has looked at the federal forfeiture fund, which increased from $27 million in 1985 to $644 million in 1991 and passed the $1 billion mark in 1996, and as of 2008 was over $3 billion. How many forfeiture cases lead to prosecution? Fewer than 20%.
So, in a recent, egregious case, Guillermo Espinoza was pulled over, though no reason has ever been presented for the stop. SCOTUS has said a drug dog does not constitute a search, and despite saying Espinoza said they could search his car, drug drugs were brought in anyway. Maybe they asked him after the search because according to those who have seen the dashcam, the dog does not "hit" on the car. One in the car the dog "hit" on a computer bag, finding just south of $20,000 in it. Espinoza explained that he was traveling to buy a 4x4 truck, but upon arrival didn't like what he saw. No drugs, nor any paraphernalia were found. The cop, however, insisted that no one traveled with that amount of cash except those in the drug trade, and seized it as evidence.
Espinoza had no record, was never charged in this case, and eventually produced paychecks, receipts, and tax forms to show he had earned the money legitimately. He even provided text message exchanges with the owner of the 4x4. Due to so little evidence and mounting evidence that Espinoza was actually traveling with the currency to possibly buy a truck, the prosecutors decided to drop the forfeiture case, which is rare in and of itself. But a funny thing happened. The judge wouldn't let them.
Espinoza and his passenger, Priscila Hernandez, speak limited, broken English, and also spoke Spanish during the traffic stop. Citing inconsistent statements between what they said in Spanish and in English along with Espinosa's nervousness, the judge gave the prosecution the $20,000 anyway. Last week, after missing a filing deadline, an appeals court refused to hear the case, despite a concurrence by one judge highlighting the injustice experienced by Espinoza.
This is obviously not isolated, considering the size of the forfeiture account at the federal level. Now keep in mind local law enforcement keep 80-90% of the value seized. Eric Holder put up a charade in memo, vowing to stop the program, but it excluded cases where local law enforcement are working with federal agents, which is nearly all cases involving drugs, so it was meaningless. Some states are tightening regulations, but there is a long way to go.