Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Theft By Other Means II: When the State Steals Property, Is It Not Theft

The Elites of the Savior State are making up their declining tax revenues via grabbing private property under the guise of "punishing criminals." Sounds good until the criminal is you and your crime was unpaid traffic fines.

One key feature of Third World Kleptocracies/Police States is illegal search and seizure. Read the story below for an example on American soil. The propaganda is that "rogue elements" are to blame (naturally) but the reality is that the State (central government) has increasingly extended its kleptocratic powers to seize private property essentially at whim.

As noted in my entries linked below, "unpaid traffic fines" can be grounds for seizure in some locales.

"Legalizing" search and seizure is a simulacrum of justice and democracy. The original justification for seizure-of-ill-gotten-assets was the Federal RICO statutes from the 1960s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (wikipedia).

Under RICO, a person who is a member of an enterprise that has committed any two of 35 crimes-- 27 federal crimes and 8 state crimes--within a 10-year period can be charged with racketeering. Those found guilty of racketeering can be fined up to $250,000 and/or sentenced to 20 years in prison per racketeering count. In addition, the racketeer must forfeit all ill-gotten gains and interest in any business gained through a pattern of "racketeering activity."

RICO also permits a private individual harmed by the actions of such an enterprise to file a civil suit; if successful, the individual can collect treble damages.

The entire concept was intended as a weapon against organized crime. With RICO, a criminal gang which had extorted millions of dollars and purchased property with the money would find the property seized, and those who had been extorted could file claims against the gangsters.

So far so good--the State steps in to protect "the little guy" from parasitic criminal gangs.

But that original intent has slipped the bounds of justice and democracy, and now local governments and authorities feel free to seize property for an absurd range of "crimes" which have nothing to do with large, secretive, extremely wealthy organized crime gangs.

Here is the context for the discussion:

Og my gosh, we're short of money here! Go stripmine some citizens with no power or political juice. And make it snappy!

Correspondent David C. reports on the outrageous abuse of search and seizure in Minnesota.

I read your two related articles on "debt prisons" "Upholding the Law" or Simply Theft by Other Means? (October 28, 2009) and When the Savior State Becomes the Enemy of the People (October 30, 2009) and "Criminalizing Poverty For Profit." They were an interesting way to look at driving fines.

On a related subject, here in Minnesota we've had some big problems with corrupt cops. The Metro Gang Strike Force was created to go after criminal gangs, but ironically this year we found out that they were a criminal gang! The police were taking property and cash for personal use or to fund the strikeforce after budget cuts.

Lawmakers hear how forfeiture laws work in theory, in reality:

After hearing hours of testimony Thursday about how state forfeiture laws are supposed to work, many legislators had vanished by the time two citizens spoke of their problems after police seized their property.

One of them was Terrance Frelix Sr., 34, of Minneapolis. He and a business partner owned some properties and were running behind on a mortgage in 2006, Frelix testified at a hearing. His partner borrowed $4,000 and had just given Frelix the money when a Metro Gang Strike Force officer took them in for questioning.

Police released them without charging them with a crime. The strike force later informed Frelix they were forfeiting the cash and Frelix's truck.

Frelix had been outside his vehicle when police swooped in and — unbeknownst to him, he said — a relative was smoking a marijuana joint inside. Police said the small amount of marijuana was the reason they were forfeiting the property.

Frelix went to court but hasn't gotten his property back. He said he's still out the $4,000, plus $3,500 in attorney's fees. His truck is gone, along with the property management equipment inside.

"Even to this day, I'm still frustrated," he said after Thursday's hearing.

Earlier in the hearing, legislators had been walked through flow charts and other documents explaining how the state's forfeiture laws work.

After hearing Frelix's account, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the information about what was happening on the streets was"nowhere near what happens on the flow chart." Thursday marked the fourth joint legislative committee hearing held in the wake of the Metro Gang Strike Force's demise.

An independent review of the now-defunct strike force, released in August, found some officers seized money and property from people never accused of a crime, then took the property for personal use. The FBI is investigating.

David C. commentary continued:

A State law allows the police to seize property from suspects without getting a warrant and without charging them with a crime. This seems very unfair to me if not unconstitutional, what happened to the Fourth amendment?

Also, people challenging seizures in civil court waive protections against self-incrimination, exposing themselves to charges. One guy lost his house even though he wasn't charged with a crime! Gang Force seizures prompt look at law: A defense lawyer points to unfairness, potential for abuse at legislative hearing prompted by Metro Gang Strike Force actions

A state law allowing police acting on their own to seize property from suspects -- often without getting warrants -- is unfair and should be overhauled, defense attorneys told legislators Thursday.

"This creates a potential for abuse," said lawyer Howard Bass. "There's no checks and balances."

Bass said the government should have to prove the property was related to a crime and deserved to be seized. Currently, property can be forfeited in an administrative procedure unless the owner demands a court hearing within 60 days of its seizure.

And the court process is complicated. Property owners need to serve proper notice on the police agency and follow court rules of civil procedure and discovery.

Sometimes people who have not been charged with a crime don't challenge seizures because it would cost more in attorney fees than the property is worth, said Tom Plunkett, an attorney with the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Also, people challenging seizures in civil court waive protections against self-incrimination, exposing themselves to charges.

Adrian Ramiraz testified that the Strike Force seized his house in Crystal in 2008, though he, too, wasn't charged. He said he hasn't been able to recover it.

David C. commentary continued:

Perhaps in the future you may want to write about declining tax base and how government uses seizures primarily to fund itself instead of fighting crime. It seems to me that the police shouldn't be allowed to seize things as this corrupts their mission of fighting crime to going after money. Allowing a judge to order seizures would be better, but then one could also argue that even this is unfair if there are two drug dealers and their cars are seized and one car is worth $50,000 and the other one worth $10,000, one could argue that they got unequal punishment.

Thank you, David, for bringing a critically important issue to our attention. We might ask how did seizure of property become construed as the State's right, justified under the broad justification of "punishment"? Since when did smoking a $4 marijuana cigarette become grounds for seizure of $4,000 of private property which is essential to one's livelihood (a truck)?

I have sympathy for working-class stiffs who typically bear the brunt of these "legal extortions" by Kleptocratic States Masquerading as Democracies. I have worked in everything from construction to plantations to quantitative stock market research in my 40+ years of labor, and many of the guys I hired in my building days had served time for absurd drug convictions. One very sweet-natured young man with Native American blood had served time for manslaughter because he happened to be on the premises where a buddy of his OD'ed on smack and Lord-know-what.

Unless you've been protected from streetside reality, you know how it works:the upper-middle class kid (son of an attorney, local business magnate, politico, etc.) gets busted for possession or maybe even low-level dealing. His Dad shows up with big legal firepower and springs him from jail. Charges are either dropped or downgraded to misdemeanor charges so they can be expunged from the record after a few months of probation. The rich kid's car is not seized because there would be Heck to pay.

The experience of the working-class kid is entirely different. For all intents and purposes, he resides in a Third World police state in which authorities have few limits. The non-"fortunate son" kid finds himself in jail and no one to spring for bail, and he's facing felony charges with a long prison sentence.

The D.A. smells an easy felony conviction which looks good on his/her record so a trumped-up plea bargain is presented--we'll cut your sentence to "only" X years if you rat out your pals, etc. The poor kid's cash and beater vehicle are seized, and he serves hard time for a "crime" which earned the rich kid a few uncomfortable hours in jail and court, and a wrist-slap probation.

If I sound bitter, it's because I am. I have plenty of cops in my family and circle of friends, and it's usually not the cops--it's the system. One young man who worked for me got busted on some trumped-up "dealing" charge and his response was to push his car up to 90 miles an hour on a deserted road and then drive off a cliff. He died rather than do long jail time for a trivial "crime" a rich kid would have skated past in one meeting with The Powers That Be.

Just as ominously, correspondent J.P.B. reports that private firms with State-approved authority are wielding Police State technology and tactics to pursue their "job" of repossessing vehicles.

Wanted to give you an update corollary. In today's Columbus DispatchBusiness section, page D6, is an article "Repossessions slowing down, but agents adapt." It is a wire article picked up from the Chicago Tribune, and it discusses repo men using optical character recogniton cameras to read license plates and store the info in a database. Very interesting.

Indeed. The State's strategy is clear: criminalize all sorts of behaviors like not paying traffic fines and then use that "criminality" as the phony justification for illegal search and seizure.

If you're not afraid of the State, you should be.

Permanent link: Theft By Other Means II: When the State Steals Property, Is It Not Theft?

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