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Asset forfeiture revisited: a look at Arkansas' participation

We last left off with an anomaly of American law that basically reverses the foundational burden of proof standard in a criminal law case in a January 20 blog post from this year. We noted therein that one enforcement tool sanctioned by federal law "has been used with a vengeance by federal and state law enforcers" to summarily seize the property of many individuals who are never indicted or formally charged with a crime.

That tool is called asset forfeiture, which operated virtually without legal checks pursuant to federal law for decades as a central enforcement mechanism in the War on Drugs.

Our January post cited the demise of that law, with Attorney General Eric Holder pronouncing it terminated that month. Holder stated that federal and state law enforcement authorities could no longer rely on federal legislation to seize individuals' assets and sell seized property, with proceeds going to enforcement agencies.

There are a couple points that need to be noted regarding the confiscation of property through asset forfeiture. First, there continue to be carved-out exceptions under federal law for threats to public safety (i.e., assets such as illegal firearms can still be taken and sold). And, second, state officials can continue to seize and sell property pursuant to state laws that allow for the practice.

It certainly bears noting that Arkansas officials have participated liberally in asset forfeiture over the years, seizing, selling and pocketing the proceeds of assets worth millions of dollars.

In fact, a recent study of assets seized and resold in the state since 2008 indicates that Arkansas law enforcers have spent nearly $16 million from seized items in areas ranging from building improvements and computer purchases to weapons buys and overtime payments to officers.

They might still continue to do so, sans the ability to rely upon the now defunct federal law that sanctioned the practice.

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