The Department of Justice has announced that it will be ending its Equitable Sharing Program. The Washington Post reports that the Equitable Sharing Program “has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them ‘adopted’ by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.”
The end of this federal program is a good step in the right direction. Though, there are some exceptions to the no seizure rule and police can still seize private property under their own state laws.
Civil asset forfeiture laws have allowed police departments to seize private property from people suspected of a crime, sell it for profit, and use the proceeds to fund their operation.The real kicker is that one does not technically need to be convicted of a crime or even arrested to permanently lose their property.
This is a clear violation of the 5th Amendment which states that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
There are all kinds of stories of people unjustly getting their houses, cars, and cash taken away from them. The city of Philadelphia evicted the Sourovelis family and seized their home because unbeknownst to the parents, their son made a $40 drug deal right outside of the home. I’m not defending selling harmful drugs, but it’s difficult to argue that the entire family deserved to have their house seized.
The Sourovelis parents were eventually let back into their own house but had to promise to never let their son into the house. His father, Mark Sourovelis, said, "To me I’m home, but I feel violated at this point. I’m doing things in my house, but I worry is it always going to be my house? Are they going to take it one day like that?"
Their story is not an anomaly. Philadelphia government officials have seized over 1,000 homes in the last ten years alone.
It’s become common for the government to seize cars from crime suspects. Believe it or not, the government can take your car even if you’re not personally involved in a crime. That’s what happened to D.C. resident, Nelly Moreira.
Isaias Moreira, Ms. Moreira son, was driving her 2005 Honda Accord when he was pulled over by police. The officer searched him and found an unregistered gun tucked into his waistband. Isaias was arrested and his mother’s car was seized for “evidence purposes.” He ultimately pled guilty to misdemeanor gun charges but the car was not returned.
Ms. Moreira faced difficulty in getting her car back and had to post a “bond” of $1,020. D.C. law requires that property owners post a bond of $2,500 or 10 percent of the property’s value before they can even appeal. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the bond money or the possession will ever be returned to the owner.
She was finally reunited with her Honda in a police department impound lot after 5 months—but a lot of people never get their cars back. Since 2009, D.C. police have seized more than 1,000 cars, typically due to drugs or guns.
Another example is a 78-year old Florida woman who was caught carrying $40,977 through customs when she was trying to board a plane to the Philippines. According to the Detroit News, the retiree had recently sold her home and “she did not wire the proceeds to the Philippines this time because she thought it was safer to carry the money.”
Federal law says that you have to declare to customs authorities if you are carrying more than $10,000. Although no charges against her were ever placed, officers still seized the almost $41,000 in savings from her.
It’s good news that the Justice Department will be ending the Equitable Sharing Program. However, as you can see, we still have a lot of work to do to protect private property.