How Is ‘Hey Cops Don’t Take Our Stuff Without a Conviction’ a Controversial Proposal?

McLean County states attorney Ladd Erickson testified in opposition to HB 1287 in front of the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday morning. The bill deals with civil asset forfeiture reform. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

According to this article from Bismarck Tribune reporter Jack Dura, law makers and law enforcement are looking for compromise on Rep. Rick Becker’s (R-Bismarck) HB1286.

That legislation would reform civil asset forfeiture laws, putting in place new reporting requirements (we have no idea how much money law enforcement agencies across the state are making off of seized property because it’s not reported) and prohibiting forfeiture if the person who had the property is not convicted.

You wouldn’t think these would be controversial proposals. If the cops/prosecutors don’t have the evidence to convict you of a crime, why in the world should they get to keep property, by way of a separate civil proceeding, they believe was a part of that crime?

It shouldn’t be controversial, and I think the cops themselves know that. Which is why we get cognitive dissonance like this testimony before a legislative committee from Bismarck Police Department Sgt. Mike Bolme who disputes claims from Becker and others (including this observer) that the status quo with asset forfeiture creates perverse incentives for law enforcement (from Dura’s article):

Bolme, a narcotics investigator, criticized the “perverse incentive” argument for the bill as “wrong.”

“To quote my extremely wise chief, we go where the case takes us. The evidence follows the case, not the other way around,” Bolme said. “To think otherwise is to not know the nature of investigating crimes.”

Does this guy not realize the problem is forfeitures which take place even when there’s no conviction of a crime?

You can’t be following the evidence when you fail to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt, but you keep the person’s property anyway.

And that really happens. Last year a man who came to North Dakota to participate in the #NoDAPL protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline was acquitted of the criminal charges against him, but the cops were keeping his pickup truck anyway.

On what planet is that justice?

How can cops like Sgt. Bolme look us in the eye and tell us they’re just following the evidence when the status quo allows for outcomes like that?

I don’t see how there can be room for compromise on Becker’s bill. The current state of affairs is unjust. What would compromise do? Make it slightly less unjust?

The cops and prosecutors standing up for the current method of asset forfeiture ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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