[Hpn] Ashcroft Encouraged Constitutional Violations in Asset Forfeiture Cases Cases

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 19 Jan 2001 15:44:46 -0700

I wish I could find just one of these religious pundits whose overt displays
of religiosity isn't just a smokescreen for a bunch of sleazy criminal acts.



Cops and Robbers: ExposÚs Find Ashcroft Encouraged Constitutional Violations
in Missouri Asset Forfeiture Cases, Police Agencies Kept Funds Intended for

An article by investigative journalist Dan Forbes, released yesterday
evening by the Progressive Review (http://www.prorev.org), has confirmed
something that drug war observers had strongly suspected: John Ashcroft, as
Missouri Governor, agreed to "look the other way" while state police
federalized asset forfeitures in order to keep money seized in their
agencies -- violating a Missouri constitutional requirement that forfeiture
funds instead go to the state's school system.

If this information receives the attention it merits, it will raise serious
questions about the AG nominee's willingness to obey the spirit as well as
the letter of the law. Information provided in recent weeks by DRCNet made
the case that legislation sponsored by John Ashcroft as Senator showed a
disregard for the 1st and 4th amendments to the bill of rights of the US
Constitution (http://www.stopjohnashcroft.org). Now, hard evidence exists
showing a disregard for the Missouri state constitution as well, in
Ashcroft's actual practice as the state's chief executive. Strongly
suggestive evidence of the same was also presented, earlier the same day, by
syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington.

Asset forfeiture reform is an issue that has recently received bipartisan
attention. Legislation championed by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) to curb some
excesses of federal asset forfeiture law was passed by an overwhelming
margin in the House of Representatives, and unanimously in the Senate, last
year. The issue is drawing increased scrutiny in state governments as well;
for example, forfeiture was a major topic at a recent conference of southern
state legislators, with action promised by some attendees

Some states have specifically addressed the issue of forfeiture
federalizations. A ballot initiative passed by Utah voters this November
diverts asset forfeiture proceeds into education, a similar initiative in
Oregon into drug treatment. The Missouri Constitution requires that asset
forfeiture funds be transferred to the school system. In Utah and Oregon, a
court hearing would be required before any funds are transferred to the
federal government, and would mandate that any funds returned would be used
as specified in the initiatives.

More than spending choices lies at the heart of such requirements. One of
the harms of asset forfeiture is the distortion of law enforcement
priorities and standards -- police agencies will sometimes choose cases that
promise a lucrative forfeiture take over other cases with greater bearing on
public safety -- and the lure of forfeited drug money provides an incentive
to take shortcuts with suspects' Constitutional rights. Requiring that
forfeited funds go to budgetary areas other than law enforcement is intended
to reduce those risks.

In order to circumvent state laws imposing such requirements, however,
police agencies will often turn forfeiture cases over to the federal
government, which in turn will return most of the money back to the state or
local police, rather than to the places the state legislatures intended.
This is what happened in Missouri -- where a provision of the state's
Constitution, affirmed by the courts and the legislature, directs that
forfeiture proceeds go to the schools instead.

The aiding and abetting, by a top state official and the US Department of
Justice, of a constitutional violation by that state's police agencies to
keep money that lawfully should have gone to the state's schools, could well
be seen as having bearing on that official's suitability to head the
Department of Justice.

Read Dan Forbes' detailed expose at http://www.prorev.com/ashcroft.htm --
and Arianna Huffington's column at
http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/files/011801.html -- and decide for


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