By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Did taking a convict’s home amount to double jeopardy?

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Part I

Not advocating for crime. Police abuse of forfeiture is very high.

Many states throughout the country have terribly abusive and unconstitutional civil asset forfeiture laws. These laws unfairly stack the deck against innocent property owners by presuming their property is guilty of a crime and forcing the owner to prove innocence to get it back.

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property. With the total value of property seized increasing every year.

Oregon’s civil forfeiture laws provide property owners with some protections, earning the state a C+ law grade. Oregon law requires a criminal conviction for civil forfeiture. Once the government wins a conviction, it must then link property to the crime in civil court to justify its forfeiture. In the civil proceeding, the standard of proof for most types of property is just preponderance of the evidence, though the standard is slightly higher for real property, such as a home or piece of land. In most cases, the government bears the burden of disproving an innocent owner claim, unless money or weapons are found in close proximity to drugs; in such cases, owners bear the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the property neither derived from nor played a part in a drug crime.


Part II

Finally, Oregon agencies get to keep 62.5 percent of forfeiture proceeds when a case is brought by local law enforcement, and 57 percent when a case is brought by a state agency. These percentages are lower than those of most other states, but they still represent a sizable incentive to seize.
Oregon law enforcement agencies are required to report details of seized and forfeited property to the Asset Forfeiture Oversight Advisory Committee, which aggregates the data and publishes annual reports online. However, data are missing for 2009 and 2012 because the AFOAC did not have adequate funding to collect and compile reports during those years—even though forfeiture proceeds may have averaged more than $1 million annually between 2009 and 2013. Available data indicate that Oregon law enforcement agencies reportedly forfeited $5.2 million over the years 2010, 2011 and 2013. Unlike every other state except for Connecticut, Oregon reports civil and criminal forfeiture proceeds separately; civil forfeitures accounted for 58 percent of proceeds.



The state tacitly acknowledged how weak their case is when they went straight to "human trafficking" to support an argument that primarily concerns low-level drug dealers, or users who are accused of dealing. If they had a history of seizing property from big-time producers who could afford to fight in court, they'd have more credibility. But they've proven time and again that it's just an easy way to rob the poor and struggling of what little they've managed to build for themselves by claiming without evidence that it's the result of drug money. Civil forfeiture is a crime.

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