Saturday, October 22, 2011

Does Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry Care About Civil Liberties?; Prosecutor Expands Civil Forfeiture and Office's "Policing for Profit"

In one area in which I've done a lot of work, civil forfeiture, I found troublesome that former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi failed to follow the statute requiring that, once a judgment in a civil forfeiture action has been made, the prosecutor's office is to introduce evidence showing how much in law enforcement costs are for that particular case.  At that point a check for the balance is to be cut to the Common School Fund. The reason for the law is that it keeps law enforcement officials from profiting off civil forfeiture.

Now, nearly a year into his first term, I have to wonder whether we elected a prosecutor in Marion County who doesn't understand or care about the term "civil liberties."

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry
The Marion County Prosecutor's Office was not unusual in the practicing of keeping everything.. In a three year period that we looked at, only five counties paid civil forfeiture proceeds to the Common School Fund, a total of $95,500.  Law enforcement officials are walking away with tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars that should be going to the state's schools.  Prosecutors and judges all over the state simply are not following the law.  Of the counties doing civil forfeiture, only five appear to be following the law, most notably Wayne County (Richmond) which was found to zealously documentslaw enforcement costs and cuts checks to the Common School Fund on a regular basis.

In the last year or so, the Indianapolis Star did a series of articles on civil forfeiture, documenting numerous cases of the abuses associated with the system and how it has led to civil liberties abuses while prosecutors and law enforcement officials have profited off those abuses.  The stories were shocking.

In the midst of these stories, Marion County had an election for prosecutor which was won by Democrat Terry Curry.  Since Curry was a former defense attorney and since he is a Democrat, the party which claims to stand up for civil liberties, I figured Curry might curb some of the abuses of civil forfeiture under Brizzi's watch.  But Curry's rhetoric suggested otherwise. Despite the problems with civil forfeiture being exposed nearly weekly in the Indianapolis Star, Curry argued that civil forfeiture should be expanded to non-drug related offenses.

The first sign of trouble out of Curry's office was the decision to drop the Omnisource scrap metals felony charges in exchange for $300,000 for his office and law enforcement officials.  The trading of a criminal prosecution for cold hard cash is as bad if not worse than anything Brizzi was accused of in office.

What is thus far unreported though is that Curry has more than lived up to his campaign promise of expanding civil forfeiture.  The Marion County Prosecutor's Office is currently seizing cars, bank accounts and other property from individuals accused (but not necessarily charged) of all sorts of criminal activity.  The Prosecutor's Office is getting ex parte orders from courts to seize the property without their even knowing what is being done.

An example is a truck driver I talked to.  Because he's on the road most of the time, he uses a friend's apartment in Indianapolis for his mailing address.   Law enforcement officials searched the apartment office had the apartment based on allegations about the renter and found the truck driver's banking account information. Unbeknownn to the truck driver, the prosecutor filed a motion under seal and obtained an ex parte order freezing his bank account.   The truck driver had no idea what was happening.

Indeed that is the practice of this Marion County Prosecutor's Office. Law enforcement officials grab everything they can during a raid,then the Prosecutor's Office will file a complaint in court alleging that the property was used in connection with a crime, even though the prosecutors often have absolutely no evidence of that fact upon which they base when they make that claim.   (That whole ethical requirement that attorneys have a good faith basis in the truth of what they're filing is ignored by the prosecutor's office.)  Those prosecutors know that a large percentage of people will simply walk away from their property rather than hire an attorney and fight the allegations.

As I have said in this blog, what happened to Democrats who believe in civil liberties?  It is clear that Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry cares not one whit about the Constitution and people's rights under it.


Citizen Kane said...

Forfeiture laws have given the police state a license to steal. Governments will steal anything they can, where ever they can as often as they can - all in the name of public service.

Paul Craig Roberts, I believe deals effectively with forfeitures in his book - "The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice."

Paul K. Ogden said...

CK, I couldn't agree more.

The fact is many prosecutors and law enforcement officials that go in and start seizing everything they can get their hands on are engaging in reprehensible conduct every bit as bad as the alleged conduct of the people they're taking the property from. It's theft, plain and simple. The fact you're wearing a badge and acting under instructions of a prosecutor does not change that fact.