Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why don't we steal away

If you're caught street racing, your car can be destroyed:
RIALTO - Zero to seven in 30 minutes.
It might sound slow, but that's about how long it took Tuesday to crush seven cars confiscated by the Ontario Police Department for illegal street racing.

As fast and furious as these dragsters might once have been, law enforcement was fastly and furiously destroying them.

"It's becoming a good deterrent," said Officer Thomas O'Dell as a blue 1990 Acura Integra was smashed into just a shell at the Ecology Auto Parts wrecking yard. A loud pop sounded as the air rushed out of its tires.

Under a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, the Illegal Street Racing Task Force has been waging a crackdown on illegal racing and auto theft, which are inextricably linked.

No one with any degree of intelligence thinks street racing is a good idea, and punish the evil-doers, that's fine. But I can think of several things that can be done with legally confiscated cars: donation to charity, homeless shelters, working poor, other options.

But no, the police, acting like schoolyard bullies, smash them.

While he action here is based on criminal laws, there is too strong a whiff of civil forfeiture here:
The widespread use of such proceedings, which usually involve assertion of in rem jurisdiction, has also brought many complaints about their misuse to deprive innocent persons of their lawful property. Without a requirement to prove that a crime had been committed, much less committed by the party in possession of the property, it has become too easy, the critics say, for law enforcement personnel to seize and prosecutors to forfeit properties worth as much as $20,000 because it will likely cost the person that much in legal fees to recover them.

Wha does this mean? That your assets may be siezed under the flimsiest pretext, and you're screwed trying to get them back.

Kevin Drum has more (guess what-it relates to the walking tool known as Giuliani):
Civil asset forfeiture became all the rage among law enforcement during the 90s, and Giuliani was just riding the wave. The idea behind it is that even if someone is acquitted of a criminal act, the state can still seize their property based on mere probable cause that the property was criminally used. The defendant, even though he was found innocent of the underlying crime, can't get his property back unless he goes to court and wins a civil case against the state. There's no presumption of innocence and no need for a unanimous verdict.

Years ago, when I first heard about this, I was appalled. I still am. Even now that I've read enough to understand the legal theory that supports it, I remain appalled. It's the kind of thing that's almost enough to make a libertarian out of me.

Not convinced? Think the ends justify the means? Check this out:
Police stopped 49-year-old Ethel Hylton at Houston's Hobby Airport and told her she was under arrest because a drug dog had scratched at her luggage. Agents searched her bags and strip-searched her, but they found no drugs. They did find $39,110 in cash, money she had received from an insurance settlement and her life savings; accumulated through over 20 years of work as a hotel housekeeper and hospital janitor. Ethel Hylton completely documented where she got the money and was never charged with a crime. But the police kept her money anyway. Nearly four years later, she is still trying to get her money back.

Still believe in "guilty, until proven innocent"?

Didn't think so.

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