Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 78
Submitted to the Warrensburg Gazette for March 1, 2001

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

Dear Editor

Johnson County is being sued because back in 1995 someone in law enforcement decided to evade state law. An individual was found with drugs, and money found with the drugs was confiscated. This is legal. The next step is to go through a procedure called “civil forfeiture” which allows the government to take a suspect’s assets without bothering with obtaining a criminal conviction. State law requires that proceeds from such seizures go to the schools. A common practice has been to turn the asset over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which is not bound by state law. The DEA keeps 10%-20% and gives the rest back to the local law enforcement agency, which uses the money as it pleases. However, the Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled that these ‘hand-offs’ were illegal and required that money be given back to the original suspect. That’s what happened in Johnson County and why the county is being sued.

I’d like to tie this in with a previous letter about uninformed voters. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know back before the November election whether the Sheriff’s department had around the law in the past? I’d like to have known how much, if any, forfeiture money our law enforcement agencies had received. I’ll bet voters in the school board elections in April would like to know how much their school board has received. For that matter, it’d be nice to see just how much money and property has been forfeited in this county under state & federal procedures over the past few years. Maybe a school board candidate will go after the information if the media doesn’t.

Many people believe that the greatest danger of the war on drugs is loss of civil liberties. Because civil forfeiture allows the government to take property from an accused without the need to obtain a conviction, it is a threat to our rights under the Fourth Amendment, which is supposed to protect us from illegal search and seizure. Even worse, people who’ve never been convicted, or perhaps never even charged, often have to hire a lawyer to get their money or property back. Allowing the police to benefit from forfeitures has caused the type of abuses which led to the current lawsuit.

If professional and ethical law enforcement agencies such as those we have in Johnson County could have evaded the requirements of state law, imagine how much greater the danger to civil liberties in places where the same ethic does not prevail. In any case, I’d hope that local law enforcement agencies will make their forfeiture records public.

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