Tag Archive for 'police'

New Mexico Passes Civil Forfeiture Law

The law often uses strange jargon that ordinary people don’t understand, but will significantly harm people if they did comprehend the words’ meaning. Civil forfeiture is an excellent example.

Civil Forfeiture LawCivil forfeiture is far more insidious than its individual words might suggest. Civil forfeiture is a process where law enforcement can seize property – including cash, cars, or even houses – without a conviction or even an arrest.

Police can bring civil forfeiture suits directly against the property itself, with interesting case names like United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency or United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. That’s right; the property is on trial, not the property owners!

Most of the properties subject to civil forfeiture typically come from ordinary drivers. Suppose a man wants to move from New Mexico to California to start a business and has $20,000 in cash in the backseat. If the police pull this man over, they can confiscate the $20,000 if they suspect the cash will be used in a crime.

Civil forfeiture was originally created so that police could enforce drug laws without having to prove the drug kingpins were guilty. Like all legal doctrines, civil forfeiture has grown beyond its intended purpose. Today, civil forfeiture has become a pervasion of the Constitution, with property being seized until the innocent can prove they are not guilty.

The fact that police have been using the stolen money to buy alcohol and slush machines only underscores how corrupt civil forfeiture has become.

Reversing the Trend

A few states are taking measures to end abusive civil forfeiture. Two weeks ago, Governor Susana Martinez signed a bill that restricts civil forfeiture actions to convictions. In other words, the police can only seize property if the owner has been found guilty of a crime. North Carolina is the only other state that has passed legislation to curb civil forfeiture actions. In North Carolina, the police can only conduct civil forfeiture if in cooperation with the federal government.

New Mexico and North Carolina are moving in the right direction, but their laws still assume that allowing police to confiscate property is still a good idea. The best reason police would want to hold property from arrestees is that the property can be used as evidence against the defendant. If the owner has already been convicted though, then confiscating property after conviction defeats the purpose of holding property as evidence against the property owner.

The police would want to hold property either to profit off the things they confiscated or to prevent other criminals from using the property. Keeping gang members from using confiscated vehicles might be a reasonable goal for law enforcement, but we should be wary when police are allowed to profit from their jobs. When police talk about protecting and serving, we should ensure that the people they are serving are the general public, not themselves.

San Francisco’s Police Texting Scandal Leads to Extensive Investigation

In San Francisco, 14 police officers are currently under investigation after racist and homophobic text messages have come to light. Seven officers and former Sargent Ian Furminger are currently suspended while the commission decides if they should be fired. Furminger has been convicted of public corruption charges.

SF Text ScandalThe text messages involve content of lynching African-Americans and burning crosses, along with extremely racist banter between the officers. Texts also include homophobic messages, which is especially surprising given that San Francisco is a city famous for its acceptance of the LGBT community.

An attorney for one of the officers claims they cannot be fired because the statute of limitations has passed. The attorney also claims the department knew about the text messages in 2012, but did not open an investigation until recently. The police chief disagrees with this claim.

Lawyers for the officers also claim the texts do not represent their views, and should be considered just a way of blowing off steam within their intensely stressful jobs.

Sargent Ian Furminger

The texts were discovered during an investigation against Sargent Ian Furminger, who sent many of the texts. Furminger was undergoing a federal corruption case. Convicted of stealing money and property from suspects, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Racism and Homophobia Cannot Be Tolerated in a Police Department

Due to the hateful nature of the texts, the police department found it necessary to investigate cases involving officers dating back 10 years, to ensure no bias or unfair treatment was imposed on racial minorities or LBGT people. Currently, 1,000 cases are set to be reviewed.

How the Nanny State and Technology Intersect to Stop Crime

Ronald Bjarnason, 59, was arrested in Northern California last week on suspicion of a hit-and-run and for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Nanny State Police TechnologyNobody reported Bjarnason, no one was involved in the accident, and there were no witnesses. So how did the police know to show up at the scene?

The BMW he crashed sent out an automated distress call, alerting the police.

Police found the car crashed into a guardrail at around 12:20 a.m., but Bjarnason was nowhere to be found. An officer heard rustling in a bush nearby, and a homeowner said his surveillance system captured a man running across his lawn right after the accident occurred.

Officers then came upon a duffel bag filled with 13 pounds of marijuana along the suspected path Bjarnason took to escape the scene.

Police eventually found Bjarnason and arrested him. The Corte Madera police, Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, and the Central Marin Special Response team then obtained a warrant to search Bjarnason’s home in Piercy. They discovered 2,000 marijuana plants, pounds of cultivated marijuana, Ecstasy pills, psilocybin mushroom cultivation, weapons, and cash.

Bjarnason is out of custody pending possible charges.

Nanny State and Smart Technology

Would Bjarnason have gotten away if his BMW did not send a distress call? To be honest, probably not. He still crashed, and he was still caught on camera. The only difference is that the police arrived on scene faster. Is this the result of a nanny state?

In my opinion, it’s not. New technology doesn’t hinder us, it allows us to be safer in a world where 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year. That automated distress call can save the valuable seconds a person needs in order to survive.

Marijuana Wars with Maraschino Cherries and D.C.’s Mayor

Washington D.C.’s decriminalization of marijuana went into effect last week, drawing the wrath of prominent Congress members. Rep. Jason Chaffetz reportedly said D.C.’s Mayor could “go to prison for this.” Federal law enforcement’s war against marijuana has been continuous since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. However, that war has often shattered lives, as Arthur Mondella’s tragic story reveals.

Maraschino CherriesWhile the District of Columbia was preparing to decriminalize marijuana, local police and federal agents were conducting a raid on Maraschino Cherries Factory in Brooklyn. Law enforcement claimed to have a warrant to search the factory for violations of environmental laws, but the raid’s true purpose was to search for marijuana. The factory owner, Arthur Mondella, had inherited the business from his father and grandfather. Initially Mondella cooperated with the police. Authorities eventually discovered a secret room concealed by a fake wall. Mondella immediately went to the bathroom.

His sister, obviously concerned, followed. Mondella asked her to “take care of my kids” and then Mondella shot himself. After Mondella’s suicide, police entered the hidden basement. Law enforcement found a 2,500 square foot marijuana farm underneath the cherry factory.

Maraschino Cherries Kingpin vs. Washington, D.C.’s Mayor

Although I drew comparisons between D.C. and Mondella, there are enormous differences. In D.C., the voters had approved a measure decriminalizing marijuana. If D.C. were a state rather than a federal district, Congress would not be as hostile. Mondella, on the other hand, was a private actor growing marijuana in knowing violation of the law. Mondella wasn’t trying to change the law, which would be legal; he was violating the law for, possibly, his own profit.

News coverage of the cherry factory conflict with each other. Most stories quote an unknown police officer claiming Mondella wouldn’t have done any jail time. However, some stories claim the officer wouldn’t have done time for spilling cherry syrup in the water while other stories quote the officer saying Mondella wouldn’t have done jail time for marijuana.

Although Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail for cherry syrup, the idea that Mondella wouldn’t have gone to jail over marijuana is laughable. Mondella was concealing what looked like a multi-million dollar farm on his property. Federal prosecutors would have indicted Mondella as a drug kingpin and there is no doubt that Mondella would have served significant time. If Congress is threatening to lock up the mayor of D.C. for enforcing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana, imagine what the Justice Department would do to a man caught running an entire drug operation in his factory.

States across the country might be decriminalizing marijuana, but there’s no doubt that some federal actors still want to win the war on marijuana.

What You Should Know about StingRay Cell Phone Surveillance

What Is the StingRay Tapping Device?

A new device called StingRay Tapping Device enables the police and the government to track cell phone communications. The StringRay is a box that electronically connects to local cell phone towers. It then simulates the cell phone tower, and in turn prompts signals from cell phones attached to the tower.

cell phone tower stingray trackingIf the police can connect to hundreds of citizen’s phones, what stops them from tapping into the general population’s phones?

StingRay’s Use by Police

From 2007-2014 in Tallahassee, FL, the city police used the StingRay in more than 250 investigations. This means they used it in about 40 investigations per year, in a city where the population is only 186,000. Even if the police are using the StingRay just to find criminals, are they taking advantage of this power and relying on it too much?

In one of these cases, a drug deal gone wrong lead the police to use the StingRay to track down the location of the suspect. Tadrae McKenzie and a couple of friends robbed a dealer of weed and money in a parking lot and fled the scene. Police found his whereabouts about a week later and he was arrested.

During the trial, McKenzie’s defense team became suspicious that a secret surveillance tool was used because there was no evidence that would lead the police straight to McKenzie’s home. The judge then ordered the police to show the device. They did in fact use a StingRay.

The FBI has declared there is no mandate for court warrants to be used when connecting a StingRay to a cell phone tower. They decided the device does not violate our Fourth Amendment and it is lawful for the police to track communications of suspects. The Obama Administration stands by this. The administration has declared that citizens have no privacy in public areas.

Senator Questions the Use of StringRay

Recently, Florida Senator Bill Nelson gave a speech to the Senate about the threat that StingRay poses to consumers’ privacy. “It’s time for us to stand up for the individual citizen of this country and their right to privacy,” said Nelson. The Senator also send a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, requesting certain explanations regarding the nature of the company behind StringRay.



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