ACLU urges Attorney General Mark Herring to oppose policing for profit

acluThe American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has called on Attorney General Mark Herring to change his position on law enforcement’s ability to seize private property without first obtaining a criminal conviction.

In a letter to Herring Friday, ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said the practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, is “un-American” and creates a profit incentive for police to grab private citizens’ money, cars and other property.

“There is a time to stand with law enforcement and there is a time to stand with the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gastañaga wrote. “When it comes to policing for profit and a fee-based criminal justice system, the ACLU of Virginia urges you to reverse course and stand with the people.”

The practice, known as civil asset forfeiture, allows police to keep 90 percent of the property they seize regardless of any evidence of wrong-doing. The amount of funds from seized property the Department of Criminal Justice Services disbursed to local law enforcement agencies climbed from $110,899 in 2006 to $4.9 million in 2010.

“Right now in Virginia, law enforcement can take a person’s money or property without even charging that person with a crime,” Gastañaga said in the letter. “Virginia’s un-American civil asset forfeiture laws fail to protect property owners, are ripe for abuse, and actively encourage policing for profit.”

The ACLU’s letter is in response to a 9-3 vote of the Virginia State Crime Commission on Thursday not to oppose proposed legislation that would prohibit seizure of private property until the owner is convicted of a crime and exhausted all appeals. Chief Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Hudson, who sits on the panel, voted with the majority to support current practices.



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