Senate Committee Considers Law Enforcement Seizures

July 21, 1999 12:00 am

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

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

WASHINGTON — Unfair law enforcement seizures of property were slated for scrutiny in the Senate today, as a panel convened to examine the nation’s civil asset forfeiture laws.

Current law allows the government to confiscate property from innocent owners who are never even charged with a crime.

“Police agencies across the country are taking cash, cars and other property from innocent people — and it’s all perfectly legal,” said Rachel King, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Reforming these laws is long overdue.”

The ACLU called on the Senate to pass a civil asset forfeiture reform measure that received overwhelming approval in by a House vote of 375 to 48 in late June.

“Government power to confiscate people’s hard-earned homes or cars without even a hearing, trial, or right to a lawyer flies in the face of American values,” King said. “Yet that is exactly what is happening across our country every day.”

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,” King said. “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.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.