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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

Smart Talk: Do civil forfeiture laws need reform?

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Jun 24, 2015 11:17 AM
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What to look for on Smart Talk Wednesday, June 24, 2015:

When police and other law enforcement agencies began seizing the assets of criminals 30 years ago, it seemed like a great idea.

Confiscating cash, houses, vehicles, and other assets that police departments could keep or sell appeared to be a valuable tool to shut down drug kingpins while finding a resource to fight crime.

And civil asset forfeiture has been just that for many police departments and law enforcement agencies.

However, there are those who believe civil forfeiture has gone too far.  They say the Constitutional rights of innocent people have been trampled on and that police have a financial incentive to seize property even if it belongs to people, who may not have participated in illegal activities but have ties to someone who did.

That's why Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) is proposing changes to civil forfeiture laws that would only allow the practice when the owner of the assets has been convicted of a crime.

Wednesday's Smart Talk investigates civil assets forfeiture with Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, the incoming president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and Harrisburg attorney Marc Scaringi, who has campaigned for reforms.

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Mark Scaringi and Risa Vetri Ferman

Published in News, Smart Talk

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  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 10:17

    Scott Summers says...
    Your guest, the Montgomery County DA is doing an excellent job in conflating the issue and misleading your listeners.

    Her opinion is colored by her profession and so far has been riddled with inaccuracies and half truths.

    Please allow your other guest to speak instead of relying on the DA's endless diatribes.

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 10:25

    Adam ask...
    Aren't there regulations and audits regarding how the drug money is used and seized?

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 10:46

    Rachel ask...
    If I am understanding correctly, this law has its genesis in the War on Drugs. Since this law was established, we have learned much about what does and does not work to decrease drug use, hence the creation of alternative options like drug courts. My question is, what are the numbers? What is the data to show that this law is even effective? Of more effective than the expenditure of resources?

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 10:54

    Stephanie adds...
    [Resa] continues to say that we have the right to sieze the property of "criminals" PRIOR to their trial and conviction.

    I would remind her that - regardless of the findings of the ongoing investigation - under our system of law they are NOT criminals UNTIL they are convicted.

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 11:09

    Guy comments...
    How was OJ Simpson's property used to commit murder?

    Really?????

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 11:19

    Thomas writes...
    So let me get this straight, an officer of the law points at someone, and says "You must be a drug dealer." then he is permitted to take that individuals cash, car, phone, and computer without a warrant or trial? and in that case how would somebody who is innocent get there property back?

  • Scott LaMar img 2015-06-24 11:55

    Steve ask...
    How do people get their property back if they are not convicted of a crime?
    The civil seizures have been applied to people who aren’t even charged.

  • TimDB img 2015-06-24 21:36

    The DA, Risa Vetri Ferman, was extremely frustrating because her comments were mostly spin. At least Scott pinned her down a little bit when he got her to admit that she could not guarantee that no prosecutors or policemen in PA abuse the forfeiture laws. She claimed that DAs that abuse the laws will be voted out of office. I'm extremely skeptical of that. Furthermore, seizing property without due process is unconstitutional in my opinion.

  • AnyDayNow img 2015-06-25 06:47

    The career prosecutor’s justification for civil seizure is based upon a presumption of guilt, guilt determined by prosecutors, completely independent of the “standards” for criminal conviction.

    Legalisms are wonderfully flexible, aren’t they? They can be twisted to produce………justification for just about anything, including artificially separate standards for personal liberty and property, such as one’s own home or vehicle. Based upon the opinion of prosecutors who can’t prove their case.

    This lady says “trust us”; there are “checks and balances” in place, and oh yes, the courts oversee civil seizures. Really? What are the checks and balances? What is the appeal process? Is it affordable? What independent agency oversees this process? NO INSTITUTION CAN BE TRUSTED TO ADMIT ITS OWN WRONGDOINGS, ESPECIALLY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

    Most people are not swayed by legalisms that are so clearly self-serving. This practice has in reality been left to its own devices, with inevitable egregious abuses, and also with everyday intentional misuse, causing material harm to alleged “criminals”, naturally those least able to fight the process.
    This is the justification in a nutshell: these people from whom we seize are criminals, no matter whether they are convicted or not. This prosecutor is saying: If the criminal justice system doesn’t get them, we will get them another way, working outside the standards of criminal conviction to bypass it!
    This is nothing less than systemic corruption.

    And she infers citizens like it that way. Do they? This career prosecutor’s arguments presumes we want criminal elements to suffer justice, by any means possible?. Yet many people view this practice as an unethical violation of decency and justice. Seizure by assumption of guilt, outside the criminal process, is FRIGHTENING, and ordinary people are increasingly aware of the frightening aspects of the legal system.

    Worst of all, this career prosecutor disingenuously hides behind the electoral process , defending systemic injustice as the tool of the prejudice of the electorate, a small number of the people the prosecutor claims to serve, voters too often swayed by manipulative campaigning that appeals to the worst prejudices and biases of the electorate's racism and classism.

    Civil seizure regardless of conviction is unethical, no matter what rationalizations are presented, because they are a part of a deliberate systemic targeting of the least powerful among us.

    It seems to me this woman’s arguments are just another example of how the legal system is twisted, across the board, from trade agreements to local courts, to perpetrate and expand the rights of the powerful against the powerless.