Saturday, 5 June 2010

Asset forfeiture

Switched On Gardener has been accused of facilitating illegal marijuana grow ops, with some of its staff allegedly telling customers how best to grow marijuana. The owner's bank account has been seized under New Zealand's recently enacted civil asset forfeiture legislation which lets the cops take your stuff if it is, on balance of probabilities, derived from criminal activity.
He also said his Gulf Harbour home - worth more than $1 million according to property records - had been restrained by police. This means Quinlan cannot sell the home or borrow money against it.

The company director said he understood why the Government had introduced the civil forfeiture law, and had no problem with his house being frozen.

"You can't have people accused of major crimes selling their assets off. But I'm not guilty of any crimes and I don't intend to sell my home."

However, he said, he had instructed his lawyers to apply to get the $189,000 back.

"We are going to fight that. The bank had instructed me to use that money to prop up the business.

"If I can't get that money and we go bust, then we win the court case, we'll be going after the Crown for our lost earnings."
Meanwhile, in the States:
Child pornography is against the law. You can go to jail if you make it, distribute it, or possess it. There is also a law that says the government can seize property that is “used” to distribute child pornography. So prosecutors can seize computer equipment from someone who engages in such criminal conduct. Pretty straightforward.

But in a recent case, the federal agents not only seized the computer, but the house and the 19 acres of land on which the house was located. The prosecution argued — and an appellate court agreed [pdf] — that there was a “substantial connection” between the acreage and the offense. That is just absurd.
Yes, kiddie porn is bad. But it's not like he was producing the stuff on the property. Instead, the Court was going to seize the house (because the computer was in there), but because the entire property was on a single title, they took the whole lot. And, again, the only connection between the property and the crime was that the guy used the computer in his house on the property.

Lynch, quoted above, points to a nice Institute for Justice primer on civil asset forfeiture in the States:
Civil forfeiture laws represent one of the most serious assaults on private property rights in the nation today. Under civil forfeiture, police and prosecutors can seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, where property is taken after its owner has been found guilty in a court of law, with civil forfeiture, owners need not be charged with or convicted of a crime to lose homes, cars, cash or other property.

Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but civil forfeiture turns that principle on its head. With civil forfeiture, your property is guilty until you prove it innocent.

Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture chronicles how state and federal laws leave innocent property owners vulnerable to forfeiture abuse and encourage law enforcement to take property to boost their budgets. The report finds that by giving law enforcement a direct financial stake in forfeiture efforts, most state and federal laws encourage policing for profit, not justice.
Of course, the New Zealand police would be entirely immune to pecuniary motivations, so there's nothing to worry about here.

Recall that only the Greens and Maori Party opposed bringing civil asset forfeiture to New Zealand.


  1. Civil asset forfeiture is incredibly dangerous.

  2. Property in the United States is also seized for CRIMINAL forfeiture BEFORE the person is convicted. The Government would then KEEP it
    permanently after conviction--(and given how some US trials now go, this means the property is seized and held for sometimes YEARS before an innocent third party who the property Really belongs to gets his day in court). To see the 700+ pages the Federal Government has seized from citizens and plans to keep, go to "". Expect to see forfeiture become more and more pervasive.