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The Problem of “Equitable Sharing” By Police Departments – Part 1

When most Miami residents think about the consequences of a criminal conviction, jail or prison time comes to mind. Unlike civil convictions, with a crime, the loss of one’s physical liberty is in jeopardy. This is one key reason why it is critical to secure the aid of an experience defense lawyer whenever you are facing a criminal charge–the stakes are high.

But it is also important to understand the serious consequences beyond time behind bars. Your entire financial life can be destroyed as a result of criminal charges. There are complex mechanisms by which law enforcement officers can end up taking property from those arrested. In fact, there are troubling new practices that may result in completely innocent individuals losing valuable property as a result of certain police practices. It is often only after months of delay and thousands of dollars in legal fees that the property is recovered–if at all.

The Problem

A recent Washington Post article highlighted a practice known as equitable sharing that’s used in many police departments across the country. Essentially, the program allows for individuals carrying large amounts of “suspicious” cash or assets to have that property taken without their consent. Borne from the days following September 11th, when the federal government asked local law enforcement officers to be the eyes and ears of the country, the program was implemented to track suspicious people, their movements, and whatever contraband they may have carried at the time. But the program has aggressively extended into police practices where money and other assets are taken from seemingly innocent people.

The justification for the program – at least according to its defenders – is that no one should be carrying astronomical amounts of money unless he or she is engaged in an unlawful act. Only after proving benign purposes for the money can the owners retrieve their assets. But this process can take more than a year at times, and can cost tremendous amounts in legal fees. So, some people, who have no criminal background or ill intentions for the money simply give up. And sometimes, with many local governments seriously strapped for cash, police departments use it for their own purposes such as training and equipment.

Hard to believe? Consider these facts from investigations into the practice:

  • Since September 11th, more than 62,000 cash seizures have occurred via the Equitable Sharing Program without search warrants or indictments. This has resulted in more than $2.5 billion taken from residents.
  • From that $2.5 billion, local authorities kept more than $ 1.7 billion and federal agencies received the remaining $800 million
  • Only 1/6th of the seizures were legally challenged. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures
  • Nearly 300 police departments have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008, despite a federal ban on subsidizing their budgets through such asset seizures

In a follow up post we will explain various constitutional issues raised by this practice and the tools available to local residents to stand up and fight back. As always, if you are concerned about protecting your rights and defending yourself against criminal charges, contact the lawyers at Ratzan & Faccidomo, LLC today at (305) 330-3905 for a confidential and free consultation.

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