Asset forfeiture is a racket conducted by the government through (mostly) legal means. Forfeiture breeds corruption because often the very same police and law enforcement agencies that are involved in seizing property get to keep it for their own benefit and use. Asset forfeiture is a huge money maker for the government; the value of assets taken and kept by state and federal governments is rising exponentially decade after decade and today the total government take is in the billions of dollars. It is estimated that the local, state and federal governments successfully confiscate property worth between four to ten billion per year. To get an idea of the overwhelming size of the forfeiture phenomenon, all you need to do is to glimpse the pages of the Wall Street Journal.
Often, local and state cops will seize assets and then turn over the entire forfeiture case to a federal agency for federal prosecution, in exchange for what essentially amounts to legalized "kickbacks" of up to 80 percent. This is done through the euphemistically called "Equitable Sharing" program. This legal mechanism of "adoption," i.e., the referral of property seizures to federal authorities such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") or the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), provides huge incentives for local and state police to engage in property forfeiture. Beside the obvious kickbacks, such incentives exists also because federal law often makes it easier to prosecute forfeiture cases in federal, as opposed to state, court. Also, state laws often have strict rules requiring that the proceeds of asset forfeitures cases go to governments' general funds often to be used for specific purposes such budget deficits, education, jobs or other social needs. In contrast, federal law allows or sometimes even requires that the seized property stays as a reward with those who made the grab, i.e., the local or state police who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by attempting to take your property and then waiting to see whether the federal government is successful in forcing you to forfeit. It is also worthy to note that federal agents and local and state police officers are incentivized in the form of professional scores and promotions based upon how much money or property they seize. Because of these and other reasons corruption is deeply embedded within the very core of the asset forfeiture system itself.
Corruption is encouraged and incentivized also because the government is counting that you will not have the courage and/or the financial means to afford an asset forfeiture attorney and, therefore, will not be able to assert your rights, especially when the value of the seized property is relatively small. The racket is compounded by the existence of legal and procedural hurdles so that a single misstep on your part, such as missing an important deadline, can result in the loss of your ability to seek your property back. Also, generally there is no way to get the seized property back while your case is being litigated before trial. This applies to all moveable property except when you can show substantial hardship, ties to the community and significant need for the use of the confiscated property such as, for example, an extraordinary need to use a vehicle that has been seized. Also, it is generally impossible for you to obtain back cash or currency even when that money is necessary to retain a forfeiture attorney to defend your case. While your case is ongoing, you might have better luck in situations involving real property, especially if your own residence is involved. Because the government generally can not kick you out of the house you live in, you might be able to retain at least temporary possession of your home.
Profiled Interdiction: Local, state and federal governments constantly train their agents on how to identify - that is profile - individuals who the law enforcement think might carry cash or other property which the government deems as appropriate targets for asset forfeiture seizures. Through police programs, such as the rather strangely titled "Operation Desert Storm" run by the federal government for example, law enforcement agencies have developed sophisticated tricks, including tools such as computer software, to profile individuals traveling on highways, trains or through the airports. For example, police and government agents have learned to profile, and then stop and search, individuals whose train tickets were purchased by someone other than themselves. The ways in which the police profile and then target individuals are countless.
The corruption of profiled interdictions reaches its scandalous peaks when local police agencies set up roadside forfeiture traps to stop innocent out-of-state drivers and visitors to take their money on the pretext that the money came from the sale of drugs, even if no drugs or evidence of any crime are found. In some states, the police get away with such clearly corrupt actions by testifying in court that a drug sniffing dog "alerted" to the money. Some courts buy such evidence - whether factual or completely made up - despite evidence that, for example, the entire money supply in the United States is tainted with drug residue. The obvious explanation for why the courts might be condoning such outrageous behavior is the fact that asset forfeiture laws allow police to keep the money they take. When the police are allowed to keep what they grab, the courts end up financing the police as well as their own court operations by literally robbing out-of-state visitors and thus eliminating the need for raising taxes on their own citizens.
Dog Alerts: Once you have been profiled, the odds are overwhelming that the police will search you, whether legally or not. Often, the police will attempt to keep you pre-occupied or otherwise unable to leave for as long as it takes to bring a drug sniffing dog. Once brought to the scene, the dog will then "alert" to the presence of drugs giving the police the pretext or so-called reasonable suspicion to search you. While you might be familiar with the so-called Unnecessary Delay Rule, which does not allow the police to question individuals for too long before a drug sniffing dog arrives, it is almost a guarantee that the police will keep you in place regardless of how long it takes. In order to accomplish extended and illegal detentions, the police will, for example, inform you that you are free to leave, only to turn around to ask you some seemingly innocuous questions designed to prevent you from leaving. If they cannot talk to you further, they will often stop and search you anyway claiming fictitious reasons for the detention and search, such as your alleged sweating or nervousness.
Dog sniffs are for the most part a joke and a deceitful and fraudulent ruse to stop and search without legitimate reasonable suspicion or probable cause required by law. At best, dog alerts have very little or no evidentiary value especially in situations which subsequently reveal no actual drugs. Reliable academic studies have shown that drug sniffing dogs "alert" up to 85 percent of the time, in situations when there are no drug present. One possible explanation for this is that police dogs are not trained to differentiate between cash and drugs. In addition, it is not uncommon for the police to induce fake dog alerts by giving the animals certain hidden cues. Also, often the police will not hesitate to lie about dog alerts. If necessary, they will turn the cameras off thus making it next to impossible to disprove their dishonest allegations.
A dog alert can be successfully challenged by a skilled asset forfeiture defense attorney. Dog sniffs can be attacked with the help of a knowledgeable dog sniffing expert, the discovery of dog training manuals and records, as well as the cross-examination of the police officers.