Another Asset Forfeiture Outrage

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Luther Ricks and his wife worked most of their lives at a steel foundry in Ohio. Not trusting of banks, they say they’ve lived frugally, and managed to save more than $400,000 over the years, which they kept in a safe in their home.

Last summer, two burglars broke into Ricks’ home. He shot and killed one of them. Police determined he acted in self-defense, and cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing. But local police did find a small amount of marijuana in Ricks’ home, which Ricks says he uses to manage the pain of his arthritis and a hip replacement surgery. Ricks was never charged for the marijuana. But finding it in his home was enough for city police to confiscate Ricks and his wife’s life savings under drug war asset forfeiture laws. Oddly enough, the FBI then stepped in, and claimed the money for itself.

Consistent with asset forfeiture laws, the federal government now says Ricks has to prove he earned the money legitimately in order to get it back. Of course, he doesn’t have dated receipts going back thirty-plus years. And he can’t hire a lawyer—the government has of his money.

Also, under asset forfeiture laws, even if Ricks were able to prove in court that he earned the money legitimately, he, not the government, would have to absorb the court costs.

Story here and here.

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38 Responses to “Another Asset Forfeiture Outrage”

  1. #1 |  Andrew | 

    Wow. That’s abut the worst asset forfeiture story I’ve read from you. And that’s scary.

  2. #2 |  Andrew | 

    (by worst, I mean most egregious government actions. just to clarify.)

  3. #3 |  Phil | 

    I can’t help but wonder how much influence asset forfeiture laws have on putting police in more danger.

    First, it diminishes respect for law enforcement, because it makes them look like common thieves.

    Second, it makes arrests for even completely non-violent crimes such as simple drug possession becomes a battle to take possession of the arrestee’s entire estate, making the stakes much higher in what would otherwise be a simple misdemeanor arrest.

    When even a misdemeanor arrest can result in losing their life’s savings and their home, are lawbreakers going to be accomodating and cooperative with police?

  4. #4 |  tde | 

    Why don’t they just request their earnings records from the Social Security Administration?

    That, presumably, would verify their income going back over 30 years . . .

  5. #5 |  Kim Scarborough | 

    Just to get this out of the way, this is totally outrageous and the FBI has no business keeping his money. I hope the ACLU, or somebody, takes his case pro bono and gets it back for him.

    But I have to say that keeping $400,000 in cash in your home is absolutely insane. What if his house burned down? What if there was a sudden inflation spike? What if he needed to spend it, say on an emergency operation? He’d carry a briefcase full of cash to the hospital? It’s difficult to imagine what people are thinking sometimes.

  6. #6 |  LibertyPlease | 

    Wow, so if you manage to fight off petty criminals, you have to invite more threatening state criminals into your home.

  7. #7 |  Don'tBurnTheDay | 

    Radley,

    Can you create a new category of asset forfeiture? I’m also scared to see the list.

  8. #8 |  Ochressandro | 

    Fuck the police.

  9. #9 |  Mike | 

    “Second, it makes arrests for even completely non-violent crimes such as simple drug possession becomes a battle to take possession of the arrestee’s entire estate, making the stakes much higher in what would otherwise be a simple misdemeanor arrest”

    In one of Bovard’s books, he talks about the Donald Scott case — cops raided a house because they were told if they found some marijuana, they could seize the entire estate. The guy thought they were crooks, opened fire, was shot and killed. No drugs.

  10. #10 |  Adam W. | 

    Mike, I think that book you’re thinking of might be “Lost Rights.”

  11. #11 |  Doug | 

    If only he would have sunk his money into a house he couldn’t afford and financed it with a sub-prime ARM loan, then the government could bail him out for free!

    Seriously though, when I graduate law school, this is just the sort of pro bono case I’m looking for.

  12. #12 |  Jrob | 

    Let me see if I understand…
    The PROPERTY, and no one else, may have commited the crime, so it is “arrested”. The rightful owner of said property must prove that he never commited a crime while in possession of said property…
    (Sorry. Gotta take a breath before my head explodes.)
    If the prior owner fails to prove this (hopefully he/she had witnesses for every moment of every day of every action for the last 50 years), the new owners get to KEEP the money and use it however they wish.

    Uh, and shoplifters don’t claim they simply “assest forfeitured” a pack of steaks that broke the law because…?

  13. #13 |  buzz | 

    what was the reason the cops even got into the safe in the first place? How did they confiscate money that they had no reason to know existed? Is finding a personal stash of weed enough to get a warrant to get into the safe? Isn’t the asset forfeiture based on the idea that the money itself is being accused of breaking the law, rather than the person holding it, and that’s the way around the constitution? If the legislature had any balls, they would fix this. Glad to know the FBI is willing to overlook their oath of office and grab this money up. Ochressandro might put his head out for a sec and concentrate his anger towards those who write these laws.

  14. #14 |  Seth Goldin | 

    Radley,

    Please tell me this can end well. Some law firm or the ACLU has picked this up, right?

  15. #15 |  Nick T | 

    “Is finding a personal stash of weed enough to get a warrant to get into the safe?”

    For sure. Finding the initial amount of weed gave them PC to get a warrant to look anywhere in the home where marijuana might be stashed. Weed being illegal and asset forfeiture suck ass, but it would be silly to limit search warrants at the point of locked containers.

  16. #16 |  Nick T | 

    Also, Radley, I think you overstate the fact that this man can only prove he earned the money legally by showing deposit slips or the like. He can show his pay stubs and have he and his friends and family testify to his modest lifestyle and whether they ever saw the money in the safe as it accumulated or saw him selling marijuana. It’s not iron-clad of course, but simple witness testimony is still pretty solid evidence or proof.

    Unless of course there’s some very bizarre asset forfeiture standard that I’m not aware of.

  17. #17 |  Diane C. Russell | 

    Suppose we could go squirrel some money away in city hall, then have the Feds raid the place and confiscate the city’s tax collections and other assets?

  18. #18 |  ZappaCrappa | 

    He didn’t trust banks. Now he doesn’t trust the police and especially, doesn’t trust the government. I don’t blame him. I’m with him.

  19. #19 |  Jrob | 

    Nick,
    The problem is the civil v. criminal standards. He has to prove by a prepoderance of the evidence that the money WASN’T used for crimes. The state can easily just sit back and do nothing, and keep his money.
    We know somebody in the house was engaged in criminal enterprise. Even if the person responsible can prove THAT dope was purchased with a check or credit card, they’ll have to prove they NEVER exchanged cash for drugs, or vis-a-versa.
    Proving a negative is impossible, for obvious reasons. The only hope this guy has is…
    Nevermind, we’re talking about da war on droogs. This fella’s boned.

  20. #20 |  Persona non grata | 

    Thomas More on governments:

    “They are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they find out, first, that they may, without danger, preserve all that they have so aquired, and then that they may engage the poor to toil and labour for them, at as low rates as possible and oppress them as they please.”

  21. #21 |  sad sea lion | 

    that’s horrible

    do these people have no shame?

  22. #22 |  Terry | 

    It would appear that armed burglars were successful in robbing this man after all.

  23. #23 |  Mitchell | 

    “He has to prove by a prepoderance of the evidence that the money WASN’T used for crimes.”

    Isn’t it just the other way around? Shouldn’t they prove that in fact he was dealing with and earning money with drugs?
    Not quilty until proven …

  24. #24 |  Jrob | 

    Mitch,
    Not in asset forfeiture cases. This is a CIVIL matter now. Basically, the government has “arrested” the money, and the original owner is only an “interested third party” to the case now. The government now has legal claim to the money, and the prior owner must prove in a court that HIS claim has greater standing than the present owner.

    Considering the amount, he might have a chance using a disproportional penalty defense. But, truthfully, I wouldn’t count on it not being laughed out of court.

  25. #25 |  Web 2.0 Announcer | 

    The Agitator » Blog Archive » Another Asset Forfeiture Outrage…

    [...][...]…

  26. #26 |  Ochressandro | 

    Buzz: No fear, I’m angry at them too. But it’s the guys on the ground that actually commit these crimes. They choose to steal the accumulated wealth of a lifetime from people like this, and then hide behind the defence of “enforcing the law”.

  27. #27 |  Nick T | 

    Jrob,
    It has nothing to do with the difference in criminal v. civil standards. It has to do with the fact that HE has the burden of proof and NOT the government. Preponderence of evidence is the lowest standard in the law – essentially 51%. It is not *impossible* to prove a negative in all cases. He can merely take the witness stand and say “I have never sold any drugs to anyone ever/I have never earned a single dime from selling drugs,” and if the fact-finder (not sure if such a hearing has a jury) finds him to be credible, then the government will have to get off its ass and prove some stuff or lose.

    As I stated, simple witness testimony is legally sufficient to satisfy any burden of proof – even beyond a reasonable doubt. I.e. you don’t *need* documentary or scientific evidence to prove anything in a court of law (other than particular cases like say, paternity).

    In addition, though I’m not sure, I think you are confusing the issue: He does not have to prove that he didn’t buy those drugs with cash. It’s about the specific money and whether THAT money was involved in an illegal transaction. If he bought the weed with cash, that money is gone now. At least I hope to hell that’s how it works, otherwise they could just seize everyone’s money anytime they were caught with drugs.

  28. #28 |  Jrob | 

    Nick,

    We’re talking across each other, not TO each other. Obviously I wasn’t being clear in my comments. (Sorry, about that. This sort of “government gone amok” story makes me so angry, I tend to type faster than I think. lol)

    I, obviously, hope the poor guy gets his money back.

    But IMO the mere presence of illegal drugs, plus the unusually high amount of money, gives the government grounds to establish the probabilty that the money is being used in an illegal activity. Thus the asset forfeiture. While I agree that it’s possible for him to win, it’s not an open/shut case by any stretch of the imagination.

    IMO, the guy’s gonna have a much harder time than you or I would because the government took EVERY LAST DIME THE GUY HAD. Unless a lawyer who understands asset forfeiture civil law is willing to take the case pro bono, he’s got an uphill battle.

  29. #29 |  Allen | 

    The problem with the laws is that it gives them incentive to find anything that qualifies to add to their funding.

  30. #30 |  Frank | 

    Until recently, they didn’t even need to find drugs. My lunch money was stolen by DC police back in 1986 merely for walking from the Navy Yard to a subway station, entering a so-called “Enhanced Drug Enforcement Zone” created to divert attention from the crack-smoking mayor Marion Barry. They just emptied my wallet and threatened to put me in the hospital prison ward when I demanded a receipt.

    Filing a complaint against the cops only got me arrested.

    Police Officer = Thief

    Police Officer = Gang Member

    The only difference being that the police officer has ‘the law’, whatever that means, on his side and you can be executed for killing a police officer (but only life in prison for killing a gang banger).

  31. #31 |  Crystal | 

    So if he can shoot the burglar who didn’t get anything and not be charged, why can’t he shoot the real criminals who raped his estate?

  32. #32 |  Jerry Alexander | 

    SO What!! If he expects Americans to do anything about it,he`s S.O.L.
    It`s is very obvious that these Goons can do anything they want to America,any-time,any-place and the Americans will say;”As long as they don`t bother me,I don`t care what they do”.
    Sorry my man,your are on your own.
    Look at what they have let their Prez and their Congress do to them.
    Americans a putty in the hands of their own elected leaders.
    Unless!!! They elect Ron Paul.

  33. #33 |  The Pale Scot | 

    “We know somebody in the house was engaged in criminal enterprise.” When did defending yourself with a firearm become a “criminal enterprise”.

  34. #34 |  Patrick Henry | 

    “First, it diminishes respect for law enforcement, because it makes them look like common thieves.”

    No, it makes them into common thieves. The legal basis for it is a bunch of hokum.

  35. #35 |  can you smell it? | 

    [...] finally, an Ohio man had his life savings confiscated under drug forfeiture laws after he defended his home against two burglars. The saints showed up [...]

  36. #36 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » Update on the Ricks Forfeiture Case | 

    [...] After reading about the Ricks case on my personal site and at reason, a friend of mine persuaded his law firm to represent the Ricks pro-bono.) Digg [...]

  37. #37 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » ABC News on the Luther Ricks Case | 

    [...] pro bono legal help to the Ricks. If I may boast a bit, both also first learned of the case through the site you’re reading. Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  [...]

  38. #38 |  Simon Prophet | 

    The government stole Mr Rick’s home. Civil forfeiture violates supreme constitutional laws but why should the government or the civil courts care about that? In 2001 the state seized my home. It got so sick that the judge in the civil trial actually told lies about me. See http://www.simonprophet.com. In the criminal trial that centred around the identical allegations I was found not guilty but the “not guilty” verdict did not help me. I refused to leave my home but the state simply got another court order to evict me and in 2007 I was thrown out of my home along with my family including Leticia who was fifteen years old. At the eviction I was taken away in handcuffs. The police accused me of being in possession of illegal firearms but the only gun that they seized was my 38 Special which was licenced to me in 2003. While I was in jail the state also seized my 500SL Mercedes-benz, my citi Golf and all of the furniture in the house which was all subsequently auctioned. Thugs, thieves and liars is what they are.

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