More on forfieture abuses, the corruption of the drug war, and the cute dogs who are used to justify the forfeitures

by John MacBeath Watkins

The Huffington Post has published a must-read article on how drug-sniffing dogs are used to justify searches. I was particularly taken with this information:
A Nashville TV station recently reported on a stretch in Tennessee where the vast majority of police stops were of suspected drug runners leaving the city, meaning the police apparently preferred to let the drugs come into the city so they could seize the cash on the way out.
Few things could make clearer the symbiotic relationship between the illicit drug dealing and law enforcement industries when it comes to the drug wars. Enforcement increases the risk premium drug dealers get (I'm sure they won't be able to compete with Phillip Morris if pot is ever legal) and the industry contributes directly to the budgets and salaries of the police enforcing the laws.

And meanwhile, the notion that the police are there to protect honest citizens is undermined by the seizure of innocent citizens' property. It strikes me that this is a form of corruption that gets too little attention. From the Huffpo story:
The Edwardsville Intelligencer reported in 2010 that the Madison County State's Attorney's Office has reaped a half-million dollars from the policy over eight years, which at the prosecutor's take of 10-12 percent suggests a total bounty of $4.5 million to $5 million. Madison County Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Robbins, who handles forfeiture cases for the office, told local paper the Telegraph in 2010, "Law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about."
But maybe they do. Jerome Chennault, a Nevada resident had the misfortune of driving through Madison County on his way home after visiting his son in Philadelphia.
Chennault said he had withdrawn $22,870 in cash to take with him before leaving Nevada, which he had intended to use for a downpayment on a home. After he was pulled over for following another car too closely, Chennault gave police permission to use a drug dog to sweep his car. The dog then "alerted" to the bag containing Chennault's cash.
Police found no actual drugs on Chennault or in his car. He was never charged with a crime. But the dog alert itself was enough to allow police to seize Chennault's cash. Over the next several months, Chennault had to travel to Edwardsville, Ill., at his own expense to fight in court for the return of his property. He had to put up a bond equal to 10 percent of the value of the property taken from him in order to secure it.
Cheannault won in court. His money was returned. But he won't be reimbursed for his travel or his legal expenses.
We all lose when these things happen, not just people like Cheannault, but all of those who hope to have honest police who take the presumption of innocence seriously. Departments that benefit financially from incidents like this pay a price in credibility, and those they stop pay a more obvious price.

Follow the link in the first paragraph of this post and read Huffpo's full article, it's well worth your time. Of course, regular readers of this blog will be familiar with much of the information in it (except the brilliant part about the eager-to-please dogs, which is really the heart of their story.)

More on this topic here:

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