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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - More on: Institute for Justice files suit challenging Indianapolis civil forfeiture system

Updating the ILB post from yesterday, Kristine Guerra of the Indianapolis Star has a lengthy, front-page story today on the lawsuit, headed "Indy officials face lawsuit alleging misuse of civil forfeiture funds." A few quotes:

The lawsuit, which was filed today by the Institute for Justice on behalf of the Horners and four other plaintiffs, aims to invalidate a state statute that allows police and prosecutors to deduct law enforcement costs from forfeited funds as a type of reimbursement. Any remainder goes to the Common School Fund, which is used to build schools. But Gedge said the statute violates the Indiana Constitution, which says that all, not some, forfeited funds must be deposited into the school fund.

A 2014 IndyStar review of cases found that asset forfeiture laws crafted to fight organized crime, such as drug cartels and money laundering groups, sometimes snare people facing minor drug possession charges, or no charges at all. People like the Horners are forced to engage in sometimes lengthy legal battles to get back their homes, cars and savings.* * *

The lawsuit, filed in Marion Superior Court, names Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, Mayor Joe Hogsett, Public Safety Director David Wantz, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Troy Riggs, the prosecutor's office and the city of Indianapolis as defendants. * * *

The state law in question is interpreted differently by each county. Some meticulously account for the investigative costs and send the remaining dollars to the school fund. Many do not put money into the school fund. In Marion County, forfeited funds are divided between the law enforcement agency and the prosecutor's office, according to court records.

According to memorandums of agreement between the agencies, the prosecutor's office gets 30 percent of forfeited funds. The remaining 70 percent goes to IMPD or to the Metro Drug Task Force, a group of officers from Marion and neighboring counties, depending on which law enforcement body is involved in an investigation. * * *

Indianapolis law enforcement officials say asset forfeiture is a tool that allows them to target criminal organizations, and forfeited funds are a small portion of their budgets but are an important source of revenue to train officers and purchase vehicles and equipment. The Metro Drug Task Force in Indianapolis, for instance, is funded almost entirely by forfeited dollars. In an earlier interview with IndyStar, Curry said his agency uses the money to pay for the salaries and benefits of deputy prosecutors who specialize in forfeiture cases.

Officials also say forfeited funds do not fully cover their investigative costs.

According to the complaint, Marion County law enforcement agencies received an average of $888,112 in forfeited funds annually from 2003 to 2010. That number reached about $1.5 million in 2011, the complaint says.

The Virginia-based Institute for Justice considers the practice policing for profit, which "creates a dangerous incentive for police and prosecutors to seize people's property," Gedge said. * * *

In Indiana, law enforcement can seize people's property without having to charge or convict someone. State law requires law enforcement officials to show that the property, more likely than not, was used to commit a crime.

In other states, such as Montana and New Mexico, a person must be convicted of a crime before his or her property is taken.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 11, 2016 10:42 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Indiana Government