Arizona Law Enforcement Clears $200 Million Over 5 Years Using Civil Asset Forfeiture
Posted By Salvador Phillips, PLLC || Jan 31, 2017
Civil asset forfeiture is a tactic used by law enforcement agencies to seize the property of individuals who are suspected of being involved in criminal activity. Although it was designed to be used against big-time criminals and defund the ill-gotten gains of organized crime, civil asset forfeiture has become an increasingly popular tool for law enforcement agencies to make money and subsidize their budgets.
Unfortunately, the tactic also allows authorities to seize the assets of individuals from all walks of life – even if they are never charged or convicted of a crime. In Arizona, law enforcement agencies seized over $200 million in personal property over the past 5 years, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. In Maricopa County alone, authorities seized nearly $90 million in assets, mostly money, in the past 5 years.
Many civil rights activists and legal experts have been boisterous about the use of civil asset forfeiture in America in recent years, particularly because it is being used in inappropriate situations (not major busts), and because it results in an exceedingly difficult, timely, and costly process when people want to get their money or assets back. In Arizona, innocent people often give up on trying to get their property back for this very reason. Most importantly, civil asset forfeiture also calls into question the ethics of creating incentives for police to profit from the public.
While other states have passed laws limiting the use of civil asset forfeiture, it still remains a popular tool used by law enforcement agencies across Arizona. The Copper State also has one of the most lenient civil asset forfeiture programs in the nation.
In addition to forfeiture programs being a revenue source for agencies, state officials keep vague details about the sums agencies make from seizing property and what they spend it on. According to AZCIR, the Arizona state commission responsible for putting together data on civil asset forfeiture figures omitted approximately $20 million in spending (roughly 16% of total spending) in its reports.
AZCIR’s investigation also noted that there was little to no information about who police and other authorities in the state are seizing money and property from. Often, these civil asset forfeitures affect individuals who never face charges, or are never convicted of a crime. Because the proceedings to get one’s money or assets back involve a convoluted civil law process, many innocent people never see their property again.
At Salvador Phillips, PLLC, we are passionate about protecting the rights of the criminally accused, and ensuring that the criminal justice system stands up to the pillars upon which it was founded. Among these foundations is the government’s burden of proving that an individual is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil asset forfeiture may make sense when it’s used against convicted individuals, but the legal standard for levying charges or actually proving guilt is often never met in cases where people have their property seized.
Fortunately, awareness is being raised about the misuse and abuse of civil asset forfeiture programs. Although Arizona has not yet passed legislation to restrict its use as other states have done, it is still critical to spread the word. Our legal team is also available to help anyone who has been charged with a crime involving a seizure of their assets. To discuss your case, contact us today.