Institute for Justice Fighting Civil Forfeiture Corruption in Philadelphia

The Institute for Justice, a civil libertarian leaning law firm, has filed a class action law suit with the assistance of law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg against the civil forfeiture actions ij-icontaken by Philadelphia police and prosecutors.  I have written before on the problems of civil asset forfeiture cases.  Contrary to the standard of innocent until proven guilty, in a civil asset forfeiture case one must prove that their property was not involved in the commission of a crime. 

The City of Philadelphia is has been especially aggressive in pursuing civil forfeiture cases against individuals who many times have not even been charged with a crime.  Philadelphia has a perverse incentive to pursue these cases and make it as difficult as possible on individuals to defend their property rights. The Institute for Justice explains: 

Property owners who find out that Philadelphia is threatening to take their cash, cars and even homes must go to Courtroom 478 in City Hall. But Courtroom 478 isn’t a courtroom at all: there is no judge or jury, just the prosecutors who run the show. Owners who ask if they need a lawyer are frequently told that one isn’t necessary, only to then be given a stack of complicated legal documents they must fill out under oath. Time and time again, property owners must return to Courtroom 478—up to ten or more times in some cases— to answer questions and prove their property was never involved in a crime. If they miss a single appearance, they can lose their property forever. ‪

Making matters worse, Philadelphia’s police and prosecutors get to keep and use everything that the machine snatches up. Philadelphia’s population is smaller than Brooklyn, New York’s and Los Angeles County’s, but Philadelphia brings in twice as much forfeiture revenue as the two—combined. Forfeiture revenue equals almost 20 percent of the District Attorney’s Office’s annual budget and the city spends nearly 40 percent of those proceeds on salaries, including the salaries of the very police and prosecutors doing the seizing. ‪

“Philadelphia’s forfeiture scheme is especially outrageous. It allows the District Attorneys to pad their budget with millions of dollars in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent residents of their rights and property,” said IJ attorney and lead counsel on the case, Darpana Sheth. “Over a ten-year period police and prosecutors took in over $64 million in forfeiture proceeds—with $25 million going toward their salaries. The city’s residents are not ATMs.” ‪

The Institute for Justice has decided to fight for the rights of property owners in Philadelphia and are planning to file suit against other municipalities that engage in onerous civil forfeiture cases.  Here is to hoping the IJ can prevail and stop this practice by municipalities to pad their own pockets.  Here is a video from the IJ on the problem with civil asset forfeiture cases in Philadelphia. 

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Civil Asset Forfeiture – Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Perhaps no tenant is stronger in the foundation of the American criminal legal system than that one is innocent until proven guilty.  Unfortunately, the practice of civil asset forfeiture – a practice that is expanding across America by local policing agencies – is used to take the belongings of individuals and not giving them back to the individuals without those individual proving that they are not involved in some sort of criminal enterprise.  Unfortunately, many times it is more costly for the individuals to hire attorneys to prove that the assets that have been taken by the police are not criminal in nature.  So the police and local government agencies pocket the proceeds of the seized goods, which can include cash, cars and homes, and use those proceeds for their own ends – even if it has nothing to do with policing.

Now this all seems fishy and completely unconstitutional.  Isn’t there a law to the effect that someone is innocent until proven guilty?  Yes, there is!  That is perhaps the biggest problem with civil asset forfeiture.  Instead of the government proving that the assets seized were part of a crime – that the person is guilty, the onus is placed upon the individual to show that they are innocent.  There is a perverse incentive for cops to keep any seized property for their own benefit and screw the innocent people that have had the property seized.  Civil asset forfeiture completely turns the the fundamentals of the American Legal system on its head.

To show how civil asset forfeiture works, here are two videos showing how civil asset forfeiture is a racket that is used by police and government agencies across America.  The first video is from the Institute for Justice, the second is from the Daily Show which did an expose on the practice and how it is such a lucrative practice for police departments and a difficulty for the individuals who are unfortunately caught in the web of civil asset forfeiture.  We must stand up to civil asset forfeiture and fight for our rights as American citizens to retain our property until proven guilty, not be required to prove that we are innocent.

 

America’s Prison Problem

America has a problem with prison over-incarceration.  We incarcerate more people than any other country (excluding North Korea for which we do not have accurate statistics).  Incarceration affects us all in many different ways; some personal with friends or family incarcerated.  Even indirectly we spend massive amounts of money incarcerating individuals.  Many prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.  Until we admit as a nation that the War on Drugs has been an abject failure we will continue to spend billions of dollars not only enforcing laws for non-violent offenses, abuse civil rights and cause terror to minorities – who are disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

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John Oliver’s brilliantly funny “Last Week Tonight” had a brutally honest but ultimately sad look at the prison industrial complex that has taken over America.  There has been a move toward private-prisons.  And although I usually am in favor of almost anything the private industry can do as opposed to the government, strict requirements that these private prisons are guaranteed a certain amount of prisoners to fill their institutions, the privatization of America’s prisons needs to be addressed in a better way than guaranteeing income for the private prison industry.

Please take the time to watch the segment from “Last Week Tonight” on the prison problem in America.  It is a sad and brutally honest look at the issues involved with the American Prison Industrial Complex.

Happy 4th of July from The Law Office of Zachary Bushatz

The Law Office of Zachary Bushatz wishes you a happy 4th of July weekend.  I take liberty seriously at my law office and in my personal life.  Whether it is liberty from the tyranny of government enforced criminal laws or liberating yourself from debt, I can help you gain independence from whatever shackles of oppression are holding you back.Thomas Jefferson

One of my favorite quotes regarding liberty is from Thomas Jefferson who said “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”  Although we must respect the rights of others, we are entitled to liberty naturally and must understand that the law is often imposed by those in power to keep hold on their position.  If you have had your liberty encumbered, please feel free to contact me and I will help you regain your liberty that you rightly deserve.

Re-Establishing Credit After Bankruptcy

USA Today Weekend published an article today on how one can go about re-establishing their credit after filing for bankruptcy.  It has some good suggestions and shows that filing Bankruptcy next exitbankruptcy is not the end of obtaining credit, but a way to start fresh from overwhelming debt.  Below is the article in full:

Veteran personal finance journalist Robert Powell answers questions from USA WEEKEND readers. His column runs Tuesdays and Thursdays at usaweekend.com.

After a bankruptcy, how can I start new credit?

— Magali Trujillo, Houston

There’s plenty you can do to rebuild credit. But there’s a right way and wrong to go about it, says Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

First: Put your financial house in order. Get a copy of your credit report for free from AnnualCreditReport.com and deal with any outstanding debts or inaccuracies. Next, create a budget, track your income and expenses, and spend money only on what’s important and essential. Also, create a record of your assets and liabilities, a balance sheet. And don’t forget to set aside money for an emergency fund equal to at least one month’s salary, if not more.

Once you’ve done all that, you can start rebuilding credit by applying for a credit card. But it needs to be the card that is right for your situation, says Cunningham. Research cards at Bankrate.com to see which banks offer cards to people with poor credit records.

You may decide that a secured card is a good place to start. Look for a secured card with the best rates, lowest fees and reports to the credit bureau. A secured credit card, as the name implies, is an account secured by a deposit made to the issuer, says Cunningham. After you’ve developed a history of making payments in a responsible manner, you can apply for an unsecured card.

Other suggestions from Cunningham and the NFCC: Take out a small personal loan from a bank or credit union. Consider a co-signer, if needed. Don’t apply for too much credit at once, but do apply for a variety of credit types. Check out NFCC.org for more tips.

Student Loan Debt up in 2012, Impact Could be felt for Student’s Lifetime

The class of 2012 have not only earned their college degrees, they also earned the dubious distinction of having the most student loan debt ever.  The average debt held by each graduate in 2012 was $29,400, besting the debt amount of 2011 graduates which was $26,600.  The Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt released the numbers and said that student loan debt Imagehas risen at an average rate of 6% per year from 2008 through 2012.  Seven in ten seniors graduated with student loan debt. 69% of Ohio students graduated with student loans, averaging $29,037 in debt.

To make matters worse, the job market is still poor for recent graduates, leaving many college graduates with little to no income upon graduation.

What may be most disheartening is that researchers are just learning the impact student loans can have on a graduate for the rest of their lives.  While it is true that college graduates have higher lifetime earnings on average than non-graduates, those who graduate without any student loan debt are in a much better position than those with student loan debt.  A new study by the public policy institute Demos has determined that education debt of $53,000 will lead to a $208,000 lifetime loss of wealth.  If current student borrowing trends continue, student debt will reach $2 trillion by 2025. The study found that $1 trillion in outstanding student debt will lead to a total lifetime loss of $4 trillion for affected households.

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5 Recent Trends That Make It Hard To Trust The Police

Police misconduct has rightfully begun to attract scrutiny from both the media and consequently the public at large.  Police are public servants, but many times their duty of serving and protecting has devolved into outright abuses of their powers to those they serve.  This article gives five examples of recent trends in policing that has eroded the public’s trust in police.