Finally some positive changes are on the horizon to address the injustice of federal forfeiture law and the so called Equitable Sharing Program. Under the Equitable Sharing Program, state, county and local police departments routinely seize currency or other valuable property and pursue forfeiture of that property through federal authorities applying federal law. The sharing part comes in after the forfeiture is complete. The federal authorities return a high portion of the forfeited proceeds back to the local authorities at the end of the process. This budgetary treasure is then used by local police departments to purchase neat new equipment and/or fund programs that would not otherwise fit into their budget.
Congress is finally seeing the effect of this money grab on our individual rights. Police need only probable cause to seize the property under federal law and that generally shifts the burden to prove the legality of the source of the money to the claimant/owner. A good part of the time, the owner has not declared income sufficient to justify the cash, or the cash is taken out of the bank for legitimate reasons but the explanation is not strong. In any event, it is not a crime to prefer cash over credit and to distrust banks, etc. In the end, this “IN”Equitable Sharing Program encourages police to aggressively find and seize currency and other property and let the lawyers figure it out later; and since it is expensive to hire lawyers, time and practicality are on the government’s side.
Let’s hope that Congress acts to stop this program and return these forfeitures to state court where Maryland law provides some protection and shifts the burden back to the State to prove the legality and efficacy of a forfeiture of property.