Magazine article Reason

Forfeiture Folly: Cover Your Assets

Magazine article Reason

Forfeiture Folly: Cover Your Assets

Article excerpt

FOR MOST OF their lives, Luther and Meredith Ricks worked at a steel foundry near Lima, Ohio. They say they've lived frugally and managed to save more than $400,000 over the years; they don't trust banks, so they kept their savings in a safe in their house.

In June 2007 two burglars broke into the couple's home. Luther and his son were attacked, and his son was stabbed before the elder Ricks was able to shoot and kill one of the intruders. The local police determined that he acted in self-defense and cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing. But they also found a small amount of marijuana in the house, which Ricks says he was using to manage the pain from his arthritis and a hip replacement surgery.

Ricks was never charged for the marijuana. Asset forfeiture laws nonetheless allowed the police to confiscate the couple's life savings. Although the federal government had nothing to do with the burglary investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon stepped in and claimed the money for the feds.

Such seizures were supposed to become more difficult after Congress passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act in 2000. But David B. Smith, author of the legal casebook Prosecution and Defense of Forfeiture Cases, says the courts have been steadily mitigating the 2000 bill's impact, both by narrowly interpreting the protections it grants defendants and by being overly deferential to prosecutors when determining if they've met the new evidentiary standard. …

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