ACLU Applauds Legislation to Limit Unfair Police Seizures

May 3, 1999 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Monday, May 3, 1999

WASHINGTON — Addressing an asset forfeiture reform forum at the CATO Institute, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Ira Glasser applauded legislation introduced today that would limit unfair law enforcement seizures of property.

The legislation — introduced by Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) — would overhaul the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws. Current law allows the government to confiscate property from innocent owners who were not aware of any illicit activity in connection with their property.

“Police agencies across the country are taking cash, cars and other property from innocent people — and it’s all perfectly legal,” Glasser said. “The Hyde bill is a meaningful first step toward protecting Americans from the harsh civil forfeiture schemes that plague our nation.”

Glasser explained that no criminal arrest or conviction is even necessary for law enforcement to seize property. Government authorities must simply satisfy a relatively low legal requirement of “probable cause” that the property was used in an illicit activity or was purchased with funds from illicit activity seize it.

Particularly appalling, the ACLU said, is the disproportionate victimization of minorities through the use of racially based criteria to unlawfully target and stop African-American and Hispanic travelers.

“Racial profiling on our nation’s roads and at our airport’s is an increasingly well-chronicled problem,” said Rachel King, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “Less well known is the subsequent confiscation of money and property from law abiding African Americans who ‘dare’ to travel.”

King cited the example of Willie Jones, an African American landscaper, who had $9,600 in cash seized from him at the Nashville airport simply because he fit a “drug courier profile” — that is, an African American paying for a round-trip airline ticket with cash. He actually planned to use the money to buy landscape materials.

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.