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Editorial: Forfeiture legislation needed

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 07, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa’s forfeiture laws are in need of some serious revamping, and they need to be addressed and changed on both the state and federal level. Whether you are driving down the highway with large sums of cash or you are a business owner who deposits small amounts of money frequently, you are at risk to have it seized by police, guilty or not.

Congress and state legislatures allow law enforcement to seize a person’s property if there is suspicion of it being associated with a crime. Typically, you associate suspicious property as being weapons or drug paraphernalia, but all too commonly is it not either of these — it’s money.

A Chicago man had $19,000 seized from him by police after he was stopped in Council Bluffs last year. The man had no criminal record. He didn’t have any drugs on him. The assumption that he had committed a crime was reason enough to have all his money be taken by officials.

Currently, it is possible in the state of Iowa for the IRS to seize your bank account and its funds without your ever committing a crime. The current system in place presumes that people are guilty until they are proven innocent. Even in cases where people were not arrested, convicted, or charged with a crime, people had money taken from them by the state.

A restaurant owner in Spirit Lake, Carole Hinders, had more than $32,000 taken from her business bank account by the IRS because her small weekly deposits were seen as suspicious of being linked to tax evasion. Even though she wasn’t found guilty of any crimes, she had to work tirelessly to get her hard-earned money back. The system put into place to stop criminals effectively worked against the kinds of people we try to lure into the state of Iowa.

It’s problematic that many law-enforcement agencies in the state see forfeitures as crucial to maintaining themselves financially. Millions of dollars have been effectively funneled to law-enforcement organizations from citizens through forfeiture. Although much of the money taken was justified as being associated with crimes, there are still cases in which innocent people have had their cash taken.

A four-month investigation conducted by the Des Moines Register found that $43 million has been seized since 2009, and among 600 cases sampled in its study, it found dozens of people who had money taken from them by officials while not being arrested or charged.

It’s evident there is abuse in the system. It is unjust that U.S. citizens should have reason to fear that the people who serve and protect can take money without proof of wrongdoing. It is the belief of the Daily Iowan Editorial Board that the unjust highway robbery that happens on roadways as well as inside bank accounts be prevented through national and state legislation. More than just a conversation is necessary. Laws need to be made and changed.


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