Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Press Release: DOJ Suspends Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing

Contact: Mikayla Hellwich                                                                                                  


Police Currently Take More of Citizens’ Assets Than Do Thieves

Federal Sharing Linked to Circumvention of State Reforms

Washington, D.C. – The Department of Justice released a memorandum addressed to local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies Monday to announce that the equitable sharing program for asset forfeiture funds has been temporarily suspended due to financial considerations. This means that state and local law enforcement can no longer expect to receive a share of federal funds confiscated through the process of civil asset forfeiture, a method by which law enforcement can seize property and money from individuals without charging them with a crime. Until now, the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program allowed departments to keep up to 80% of assets seized in joint operations, a practice scholars have shown allows local agencies to circumvent reforms in their own states. At least one estimate puts the amount of assets confiscated by law enforcement agencies in 2014 above the total amount of robberies, suggesting, according to Reason Magazine, that “Your local police or sheriff's department is more likely to take your stuff than a robber.

“This is one temporary solution I’d like to see made permanent,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.) executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a criminal justice group working to reform civil asset forfeiture. “There has been a tremendous amount of work done at the state level to reform these laws, but that’s all being undermined by equitable sharing. This is the biggest threat to civil liberties the public doesn’t know about.”  

Civil forfeiture cases in most states require the lowest burden of proof (“preponderance of evidence”) to make a seizure. Since the cost of contesting the case in court is usually more than the value of the property seized, most people never challenge the case and permanently lose their property. In 35 states, the burden of proof is placed on the property owner, meaning that after the property is seized, it’s up to the owner to prove that they weren’t involved in the alleged crime. 

Two of the original architects of civil forfeiture laws, John Yoder and Brad Cates, regret what the equitable sharing program has become. They told the Washington Post in 2014 that, “The program began with good intentions but now, having failed in both purpose and execution, it should be abolished.”

In November, the Institute for Justice published Policing For Profit, 2nd Edition to outline the major problems that have resulted from civil asset forfeiture. Between 1997 and 2013, 87% of Department of Justice seizures were civil and just 13% were criminal. This means that only 13% of people who had their property seized by law enforcement during this time were ever charged with a crime. The Institute for Justice concluded that the equitable sharing program made it possible for agencies to circumvent state laws by working with multi-jurisdictional task forces that included federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration.


Friday, December 18, 2015


Contact: Mikayla Hellwich                                                                       For Immediate Release:                                                                                       Friday, December 18th, 2015


President Obama Expected to Sign Bill Into Law

Washington D.C. – President Barack Obama is expected to sign a critical spending bill passed this morning by Congress that contains two significant drug policy provisions that will protect state’s rights, medical marijuana businesses and patients, and improve public health. Last year, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) cosponsored an amendment that prevents the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The amendment was approved on a temporary, one-year basis in the last spending bill and will be renewed pending the President’s signature.

The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment protects medical marijuana businesses that abide by state law from federal interference. Federal law still lists marijuana under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category supposedly relegated to drugs that have no medical value or applicable uses in medical settings and extremely high potential for abuse and addiction. Until the amendment was passed, federal enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), were still able to shut down facilities despite state law. A federal judge in California upheld the amendment in October after the DEA brought a case against a medical marijuana business owner.  

“Patients who benefit from medical marijuana should not be treated like dangerous criminals, and the businesses that support them need to be protected from the old drug war mentality that still runs deep within the DEA,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. “It’s very encouraging to see such widespread support for protecting state’s rights and the rights of patients.”

In an incredible victory for public health, the bill undermines the decades-old ban on federal funding used for clean syringe programs. Federal dollars still won’t be permitted for purchasing syringes directly, but money can be used for everything else involved in the programs, including staff, if local public health agencies in consultation with the CDC agree that there is an HIV or hepatitis outbreak. In 1988 the government banned federal funds from being used to provide clean syringes to people who inject drugs. It was a common misconception at the time that providing basic harm reduction services, such as clean needles, enables people with addictions and will increase the number of people who use drugs. This myth has been debunked repeatedly (though the same argument continues to be made against the lifesaving opiate-overdose-reversal drug naloxone), and federal law now demonstrates a more significant effort to show basic compassion and improve the health of injecting drug users and the community at large. Countries that have robust needle exchange programs are greatly reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

“Needle exchange is a public health and safety necessity,” said retired corrections officer, substance abuse counselor, and LEAP speaker, Patrick Heintz. “This new law will not only protect those who use drugs from disease, but it will help prevent other innocent victims who come into intimate contact with people who use IV drugs that have been forced for so long to share contaminated needles.”

Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult-use of marijuana. Twenty-three states and D.C. allow some form of medical marijuana access. The United States has one of the lowest records of availability of clean syringe access in the developed world even though 203 programs operate in 34 states.

LEAP is committed to ending decades of failed policy that have created dangerous underground markets and gang violence, fostered corruption and racism, and largely ignored the public health crisis of addiction. The drug war has cost nearly $2 trillion dollars, yielded only disastrous outcomes, and has diverted valuable law enforcement resources away from more important crimes.


Thursday, December 17, 2015


Contact: Mikayla Hellwich                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


Solicitor General Advises SCOTUS Not To Hear Lawsuit Nebraska and Oklahoma Filed Against Colorado

Washington, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli Jr., issued a statement advising the Supreme Court not to hear a lawsuit Nebraska and Oklahoma filed against Colorado's marijuana legalization law last December. Oklahoma and Nebraska attorneys general filed the suit in hopes of re-criminalizing marijuana in Colorado, claiming it had created a burden on their own law enforcement agencies and because marijuana is still federally illegal.

The Solicitor General stated, "Entertaining the type of dispute here - essentially that one state's laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state - would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court's original jurisdiction."

"I’m happy to see the administration is supporting states’ rights to decide their own marijuana policy," said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.)executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a criminal justice group working to end marijuana prohibition. “If Nebraska and Oklahoma want to stop wasting police resources on marijuana, they should be working hard to legalize and control it.”

Marijuana is legal for adult-use in 4 states and the District of Columbia and legal for medical uses in 23 states and D.C. California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and Maine are all assembling campaigns to legalize marijuana for adult-use by initiative process in the 2016 elections. Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Jersey are among states working on legislation that would do the same.

LEAP is committed to ending decades of failed marijuana policy that have wreaked havoc on public safety and fostered corruption and racism. Marijuana prohibition has distracted law enforcement from dealing with more important crimes, ensured that average, law-abiding citizens are treated like criminals, and deprived countless people from equitable housing, education, and employment opportunities.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Press Release: 60 Minutes Reports on Use of Confidential Informants

Contact: Mikayla Hellwich                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


Parents of Murdered College Student Encourage Families to Know Rights, Lawyer Up

The CBS news program 60 Minutes reported this week on how police departments across the U.S. are recruiting and coercing young people to serve as confidential informants (CIs) in return for dropping low level, nonviolent marijuana and other drug charges. Some college students report being coerced by officers who said they weren’t allowed to call their parents or a lawyer. While trained undercover agents and CIs can be helpful for infiltrating large criminal organizations, the majority of states don’t require CIs to be of a certain age, trained, or protected by the departments that hired them. 60 Minutes is shedding light on this issue as the practice has led to traumatizing and deadly consequences for several students and their families. 

One case examined by 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl involved an Ole Miss student called “Greg” who ultimately had no stake in a drug deal except that a friend, a CI, left drugs in Greg’s dorm room, and another friend, also a CI, came by to pick up the drugs. Greg was later accused of being a drug dealer and, threatened with 20 years in prison and a felony record, was intimidated into working with police. “I felt like I had a gun to my head,” he said. Officers told Greg his charges would be dropped if he made 10 different drug buys – all of which he had to stage and organize by himself. After 6 buys, he was charged with drug distribution, despite the deal Greg thought he made. He later hired a lawyer and the charges were ultimately dropped after the case was brought to the attention of the district attorney. Greg’s lawyer, Ken Coghlan, said that drug task forces get better funding when they show higher arrest numbers. “Law enforcement is addicted to the drug war,” said Coghlan.  

“If a court cannot accept a guilty plea for a misdemeanor charge unless the person has had the assistance of an attorney, then it seems eminently logical to forbid police departments from recruiting young people to pretend to commit felonies in order to entrap other students or armed felons unless the young person has the opportunity to consult with legal counsel,” said Eric Sterling, former Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and advisory board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the War on Drugs.  

Another college student, Andrew Sadek, was detained for selling $80 worth of marijuana. In order to get the charges dropped, Andrew was told he needed to start working with the police and make several drug buys. Before having completed all his buys, Andrew disappeared from his dorm and was found two months later at the bottom of a river wearing a backpack full of rocks. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. Police claim the death was suicide even though a gun was never found. Andrew’s mother, Tammy, says she would have immediately called a lawyer if she had been aware of Andrew’s encounter with Officer Weber. Tammy and her husband now warn other parents to be wary of striking deals with police without a lawyer present.

A controversial campus police CI program at UMass-Amherst was shut down after an in internal investigation found that college students are particularly vulnerable to coercion. There could be as many as 100,000 confidential informants working with law enforcement across the country.

The full 60 Minutes story can be viewed online here:

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