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Illinois lawmaker criticizes civil asset forfeiture

Unless it has ever happened to you, you might never realize that police can do more to a person they suspect of a drug crime than simply arrest them. Police in Illinois also have the power to seize a suspect’s money, cars, even their home. And they do not have to give any of it back, even if the suspect is never charged with a crime.

It is called civil asset forfeiture, and needless to say it is a highly controversial police power. State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt goes so far as to call it illegal. She is working on a bill to amend the state’s civil asset forfeiture law, according to The Chicago Crusader.

As long as the officers seizing the property claim that it is involved in a crime, they are within their rights to take it away from suspects. Getting it back generally is very difficult, often costing more than the value of the property itself. The burden of proof is on the person whose property was taken to show that it had no criminal connection.

In a local example, Van Pelt noted a case where Chicago police seized $271,080 they found in a safe belonging to a group of people living in a home. None of the roommates were ever charged with a crime, but police tried to keep the money, claiming it was proceeds from drug sales. Two of the former suspects, a pair of brothers, went to court. Their case is still in progress.

Van Pelt calls incidents like this a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. She is hoping to ban or at least amend the practice in Illinois.

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