The most relevant case law that deals with civil forfeiture is United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. It describes the civil forfeiture in admiralty law that is connected with the stop and search of the King Diamond II by the Navy ship while it was in the international waters, during which a number of the shark fins was extracted, as their presence and the attempt to buy more were considered as a violation of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 (“United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins”).
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In this case, the court paid much attention to the Shark Finning Prohibition Act with the attempt to find out if its regulations are applicable or not. The representatives of the King Diamond II insisted on the fact that they were not working for the benefit of the foreign vessels, and that the simple fact of purchase is not discussed under the in the statute, which meant that there were no reasons for forfeiture (“Shark Finning Prohibition Act” 4).
The court supported such claim held that the forfeiture was illegal after the activities of the King Diamond II were considered to be different from those a fishing vessel conducts (Ninth Circuit Review). Thus, it was standing firmly on the legal ground, and the seizure could not be considered rightful.
Current civil forfeiture laws in the USA have a long and controversial past. The idea of applying due process to an item was adopted in American systems (Weld 18). Ships involved in piracy were subject to seizure for piracy, smuggling, and the crew’s involvement, deemed to be treason. This practice was formalized in 1966 in the Supplemental Rules for Certain Admiralty and Maritime Claims and became the basis for modern civil forfeiture practices.
This legislation allowed government agencies to seize properties owned by felons convicted of drug related crimes (Pilon 313). Today, any type of property can be seized, of whatever form the asset takes, provided that authorities have sufficient grounds for concluding that they are the proceeds of illicit activity, irrespective of whether a suspect is charged (“18 U.S. Code § 981”). Despite the obvious positive outcomes of such legislative approach to the process of limiting potential criminals in their actions, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act does not take into account the excessive power it factually provides police officers with and the negative consequences of the impact of such power on the innocent people.
Civil forfeiture appears to give an advantage to government agencies in the war on crime. It also poses significant threats to basic civil rights and can increase corruption. According to Sibilla, the case of Torrell Wallace is not the only instance of excessive use of civil forfeiture law by the police (“Criminal Cases against Police”). There are many other examples where police officers abused their authority for personal gain (Bates; Ingraham; Walberg). Professionals tend to underline that increasing numbers are filing lawsuits based on similar, alleged, abuse of police and agency discretion (“Fighting Police Abuse”).
Steps must be taken to rectify this situation, otherwise the public will lose confidence in the police and this will impact negatively on their effectiveness, leading to further crime. Some states restrict the use of civil forfeiture laws and some have insisted they can be used only when a criminal conviction has been obtained first. According to Sibilla, Montana Governor, Steve Bullock, enacted such a requirement (“Civil Forfeiture Now Requires a Criminal Conviction”).
At the same time, the situation in New Mexico went even further. In this state, the civil forfeiture outright was eliminated (Townes). Legal practices that abuse the rights of potentially innocent citizens must be restricted until there is further clarification of these laws (CPS). Not to do so imperils the whole democratic principles upon which the laws of the U.S. are based.
18 U.S. Code § 981 – Civil Forfeiture 2016. Web.
Bates, Adam. “Oklahoma Sheriff Indicted for Extortion, Blames Civil Forfeiture Reformers.” CATO Institute. 2016. Web.
CPS. Human Rights and Criminal Prosecutions. 2016. Web.
Fighting Police Abuse, n.d. Web.
Ingraham, Christopher. “New Report: In Tough Times, Police Start Seizing a lot More Stuff from People.” The Washington Post. 2014. Web.
Ninth Circuit Review. United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins. 2007. Web.
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Pilon, Roger. “Can American Asset Forfeiture Law be Justified?” New York Law School Review 19 (1994): 311-333. Web.
Shark Finning Prohibition Act, 2000. Web.
Sibilla, Nick. “Civil Forfeiture Now Requires a Criminal Conviction in Montana and New Mexico.” Forbes. 2015. Web.
Sibilla, Nick. “Criminal Cases against Police Show why Civil Forfeiture must be Abolished.” Forbes. 2016. Web.
Townes, Carimah. New Mexico Is the Second State to Ban Police from Seizing Innocent People’s Property. 2015. Web.
Walberg, Tim. “Stopping the Abuse of Civil Forfeiture.” The Washington Post. 2014. Web.
Weld, Jean. “Forfeiture Laws and Procedures in the United States of America.” Resource Material Series No. 83. 2011. Web.