New frontiers in asset forfeiture
Radley Balko has some encouraging news as well as some discouraging news on civil asset forfeiture:
While much of the progress on criminal justice reform has stalled in recent months, there has been quite a bit of progress on civil asset forfeiture. Several states have continued to put curbs on abuses. New Mexico, Montana and New Hampshire recently passed laws requiring a conviction before property can be forfeited. (Although at least in New Mexico, police agencies appear to be straight-up ignoring the law.)
But law enforcement agencies aren’t giving up the lucrative (for them) practice without a fight. The most common form of property seized is cash. In fact, carrying large amounts of cash is now in and of itself viewed as suspicion of criminal activity. People who still do carry a lot of cash today have as much to fear from law enforcement as they do from criminals, particularly if they’re planning to fly or drive on a highway that passes through a “forfeiture corridor.”
The police theory has been that because most criminals work with cash (probably true), most people carrying a lot of cash are probably criminals (probably not true). Don’t want to be under suspicion? Don’t carry cash.
But the Oklahoma state police are now using some new technology that could make that advice obsolete.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that also allows them to seize money in your bank account or on prepaid cards.
It’s called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and state police began using 16 of them last month.
Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects you may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan any cards you have and seize the money.
“We’re gonna look for different factors in the way that you’re acting,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent said. “We’re gonna look for if there’s a difference in your story. If there’s someway that we can prove that you’re falsifying information to us about your business.”
Troopers insist this isn’t just about seizing cash.
“I know that a lot of people are just going to focus on the seizing money. That’s a very small thing that’ s happening now. The largest part that we have found … the biggest benefit has been the identity theft,” Vincent said.
“If you can prove can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you. And we’ve done that in the past,” Vincent said about any money seized.
Since we’re talking about prepaid cards, I’m not sure how this is going to help fight identity theft. Unlike a regular credit card, a prepaid card can be used only if someone adds money to it. Maybe I’m overlooking something, but I just don’t see any advantage to using someone’s identity to obtain a prepaid card unless the thief also has access to the victim’s banking account. But if a thief has access to your bank account, I’m not sure why he’d go to the trouble of then obtaining a prepaid card and filling it with your money. . .