Trust Us. We Have An Excellent Reason To Take Your House(s)

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Scott Meiner, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

San Antonio Express News reports on the attempted forfeitures of two houses owned by Dr. Sindy Chapa, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Latinos Media and Markets at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University.

“Chapa hasn’t been charged with a crime, and an affidavit by an Internal Revenue Service agent explaining why the feds think they should have the house has been sealed. But in the public court filings, prosecutors allege the property was bought with proceeds of criminal activity….

“It’s not unusual for San Antonio prosecutors to seal affidavits outlining why they want property forfeited, but in recent high-profile cases, the owners have been out of the country. This is a rare situation in which the property owner is in the U.S. and could potentially contest the forfeiture.” Jason Buch and Guillermo Contreras, “Texas State professor’s property targeted by feds,” San Antonio Express News, 5 Sept. 2012.

Any speculation on the strength of the government’s case or the relative innocence of Dr. Chapa is premature. We simply don’t know much (beyond a rumored romantic relationwith Tomás Jesús Yarrington Ruvalcaba) because the DOJ was successful in keeping the supporting reasons secret. Still, it is unsettling to hear that San Antonio prosecutors regularly use sealed affidavits in civil asset forfeitures (and even more so if prosecutors are employing a concerted strategy to capture property while potential claimants are away).

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14 Responses to “Trust Us. We Have An Excellent Reason To Take Your House(s)”

  1. #1 |  Burgers Allday | 

    So she is a professor of media, and her comment regarding the prospective seizure of her houses is: “I don’t have any information about that.”

    This is ain’t Agitator-worthy, at least not yet.

    First of all it sounds like she may not even be contesting the seizure.

    Second, even if the point is that the affidavits are sealed, her tight-lipped stance (and job to protect) strongly suggests that it is in her best interests to keep them puppies sealed now & forever.

    Third, if you are going to cover her story at least put the photo up so we Totski’s get something out of the deal.

  2. #2 |  Fred Bush | 

    I draw a different conclusion from “in recent high-profile cases, the owners have been out of the country”. A lot of property around here is owned by Mexican nationals. The ones associated with cartels don’t spend a lot of time here.

  3. #3 |  Mike T | 

    At this rate, I think the best solution for this is for civil libertarians to join law enforcement and abuse the hell out of these powers to the point it becomes unbearable to the public. Most people are idiots when it comes to this sort of thing. They can always imagine a scenario in which it makes sense. Solution: give it to them so good and hard they want to scorch Earth the entire civil asset forfeiture system.

  4. #4 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “At this rate, I think the best solution for this is for civil libertarians to join law enforcement and abuse the hell out of these powers to the point it becomes unbearable to the public…”

    Interesting solution, but they might not be eligible if it gets discovered they have an IQ over 90. Or a conscience.

  5. #5 |  Invid | 

    @ 3 I wouldn’t be able to make it as an enforcer – as soon as I came across a defenseless, friendly dog there is no way I could shoot it.

  6. #6 |  Mike T | 

    @ 3 I wouldn’t be able to make it as an enforcer – as soon as I came across a defenseless, friendly dog there is no way I could shoot it.

    You could always fire your entire magazine into the ground at the dog. Since most cops barely qualify with their weapons, you could justify it on the grounds of the department not training you effectively at hitting moving targets fleeing for their lives.

  7. #7 |  Mike T | 

    Interesting solution, but they might not be eligible if it gets discovered they have an IQ over 90. Or a conscience.

    Not true of the DA’s office. An IQ under 100 is a liability there. It might cause them to not be able to compartmentalize their morality sufficiently that civil asset forfeiture feels like something other than armed robbery with the blessing of the state. Ideally, they want someone in the 120-140 range, as that’s the ideal range to be maximally evil as a lawyer and develop an entire system for compartmentalizing the morality based on superficial sophistry.

  8. #8 |  Chris Mallory | 

    #7 Mike,
    The DoJ disagrees.
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/memo-reveals-dept-of-justice-directed-to-hire-people-with-intellectual-disabilities/

  9. #9 |  Andrew S. | 

    Mike T @ #3: You presume that there’s a point at which the public will find authoritarian abuses of law intolerable. I don’t have such faith, unfortunately.

  10. #10 |  Mike T | 

    #9,

    Given sufficiently brazen abuses of authority, anything is possible. Start with seizing all nice minority-owned vehicles on the grounds that it is “axiomatic” that no black man could own a decent car.

  11. #11 |  Inkberrow | 

    Sounds just like the kind of extralegal maneuver a couple of Castro brothers might sanction.

  12. #12 |  Bergman | 

    Asset forfeiture runs on the theory that inanimate objects lack the rights of a citizen (due process, confronting accusers, jury trial, innocent until proven guilty, etc) and therefore must prove their innocence in court when accused. But inanimate objects don’t argue in court very well as a rule, and the actual owner may be denied standing to argue on that object’s behalf. In order to win, the property and its representative must prove it did not violate any laws.

    So I’m wondering, given all of the above, has anyone sued a courthouse or police station, or the home of a politician who voted in favor of asset forfeiture laws? In many police departments, police officers violate civil and constitutional rights every day. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and such violations by public officials are federal crimes. So, given the laws, shouldn’t you be able to forfeit a police station?

  13. #13 |  Burgers Allday | 

    So I’m wondering, given all of the above, has anyone sued a courthouse or police station, or the home of a politician who voted in favor of asset forfeiture laws? In many police departments, police officers violate civil and constitutional rights every day. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and such violations by public officials are federal crimes. So, given the laws, shouldn’t you be able to forfeit a police station?

    This is an interesting theory, but flawed.

    Yes prosecutors can charge entire police forces with crimes. Conspiracy, theft, murder, etc., etc. They don’t even have to use special laws to do this. They can just use the ordinary criminal laws of they want to charge all the policemen with crimes.

    And, yes, the prosecutor could, in theory, instead of charging a crime, or in addition to charging crime, could seize things owned by the police department. They probably don’t own the police station, but they probably do own SUVs and heli’s and firearms that have actual value.

    HOWEVER, it is unlikely that a prosecutor would decide on a forfeiture remedy. For PRACTICAL reasons. The prosecutor is not going to go to war against a police department unless and until it is way clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they committed tonnes of crimes. Even if it is super clear that all the policemen committed tonnes of crimes the prosecutor still might not act, but if she does decide to act then she will do something more decisive than just seizing the vehicles and heli’s. She might have the mayor quietly liquidate that police department and contract the protection of the town to the state or county. She might bring a grand jury and get each and every popo charged with a laudry list of noxious crimes. But what the prosecutor isn’t going to do is take the half measure of civil forfeiture against the bad popos.

    Civil forfeiture works great for the government when they aren’t sure that the forfeitees are really guilty and when the forfeitees property is not owned by a part of the government itself. When the police are criminals, then neither of these forfeiture-favorable conditions hold. The policemen will get the benefit of the prosecutor’s doubt if there is any doubt about their guilt of crimes, plus all the popo’s good stuff is already owned by the same gov’t that would be trying seize it — it would be like a snake eating its own tail.

  14. #14 |  Burgers Allday | 

    here is a good case on seizure and probable cause (and exigent circumstances) that just came out:

    http://www.leagle.com/xmlResult.aspx?xmldoc=In%20FDCO%2020110620A81.xml&docbase=CSLWAR3-2007-CURR

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