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Congressman Dingell's Reply To My Email

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A while back I sent the following to Congressman John Dingell (and others). His reply follows. Any thoughts?




To: District054@house.mi.gov, SenRWarren@senate.michigan.gov, miag@michigan.gov, senator@stabenow.senate.gov, senator_levin@levin.senate.govCc: nfinley@detnews.com, ryanstanton@annarbor.com, vduffy@umich.edu


Dear Representatives, Senators, and Michigan Attorney General:


The article below (link How drug Cops Go Bad )is a little long but it has hit the nail on the head with respect to the problems with our civil forfeiture laws. The corruption inherent in this system is disintegrating the ties between the police and our citizens. Neither group trusts the other. With that loss of trust comes a loss of respect for each other and then a loss of cooperation between the groups.


Personally, as an unarmed citizen, I am uncomfortable being seen as an unfriendly by our police officers. In Michigan we now have a militaristic police force that is losing respect for the citizens and that takes whatever it pleases from these citizens to fund their operations.


Please tell me that you are able to see how very wrong this system of forfeiture is because if you cannot see that I personally fear for our future. Who will stand up to the armed police if not our lawmakers? We entrusted you folks with these duties. Please help us!


I am very grateful for your time and attention. I feel this issue is of great importance. Thank you.












Dear xxxx:


Thank you for contacting me regarding forfeiture. I appreciate hearing from you.


Forfeiture has long been an effective law enforcement tool, and Congress and State legislatures have authorized its use for over two hundred years. Every year, forfeiture redirects property worth hundreds of millions of dollars from criminal to lawful uses. Under some circumstances, however, it can be not only harsh, but unfair. In 2000, with my support, Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), which provided a more just and uniform procedure for Federal civil forfeitures.


Forfeitures are classified as civil forfeitures or criminal forfeitures according to the nature of the procedure which ends in confiscation. Criminal forfeiture is an in personam proceeding, and confiscation is only possible upon the conviction of the owner of the property.


Civil forfeiture is an in rem proceeding, meaning that the property is the defendant in the case. Unless a statute provides otherwise, the innocence of the owner is irrelevant ?"? it is enough that the property was involved in a violation to which forfeiture attaches. Before CAFRA was enacted in 2000, the government only had to establish probable cause that the property was subject to forfeiture; the owner had to prove on a "preponderance of the evidence" that it was not. CAFRA holds the government to the "preponderance of evidence" standard and shifts the burden of proof to the government instead of the property owner. However, the property owner still need not be found guilty of any crime.


The U.S. Supreme Court has held that authorities may seize moveable property without prior notice or an opportunity for a hearing, but that real property owners are entitled as a matter of due process to preseizure notice and the chance for a hearing. As a matter of due process, innocence may be irrelevant in the case of an individual who entrusts his or her property to someone who uses the property for criminal purposes. Although some civil forfeitures may be considered punitive for purposes of the Eighth Amendment's excessive fines clause, civil forfeitures do not implicate the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy clause unless they are so utterly punitive as to belie remedial classification.


The statutes governing the disposal of forfeited property may authorize destruction of property, or transfer for governmental purposes, or deposit of the property or the proceeds from its sale in a special fund. Every year, Federal agencies transfer hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property to State, local, and foreign law enforcement officials in compensation for their contribution to joint enforcement efforts.


I share your concern that forfeiture can occasionally be harsh, and even unfair. The Texas State Legislature is currently investigating the Tenaha, Texas Police Department seizures scandal of 2009, during which officers allegedly utilized an unfair state forfeiture regulation to seize property from unsuspecting motorists to raise revenue for the local police. While no legislation concerning forfeiture has been introduced in the 112th Congress, I will certainly keep your comments in mind should such a bill come before me for consideration.


Again, thank you for being in touch. For news on current federal legislative issues, please visit my website at www.house.gov/dingell; you can also sign up there to receive my e-newsletter. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me again if I may be of assistance with this or any other matter of concern.


With every good wish,


Sincerely yours,


John D. Dingell

Member of Congress

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