Iowa: the state that stole Christmas through confiscation of civilian assets


Iowa is on the villain list this year for cranky behavior.

Instead of taking Who-pudding and Who-hash, state officials have taken over $ 100 million from citizens over the past 20 years through a controversial law enforcement program called Forfeiture civilian assets. This earns Iowa a D- in a new analysis by a criminal justice reform organization.

Confiscation of civilian assets allows the government to confiscate money or property suspected of being involved in criminal activity, but it does not require any criminal charges. Subjects are forced to prove their innocence to get their belongings back, overturning the presumption of innocence.

Iowa is one of the worst states in the country for forfeiture of civilian assets, according to the new report “Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture” released this month by the Institute for Justice . Our state does not have adequate safeguards against abuse and allows police to work with federal law enforcement to effectively circumvent Iowa laws.

In many cases, police services benefit directly from the money and expensive goods they take from people. This creates a perverse incentive and gives rise to the phrase “police for profit”.

“No one should ever lose their property without first being convicted of a felony, but Iowa lawmakers should be especially concerned about forfeiture abuses now as local governments face increased tax pressure in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, “said Lisa Knepper, co-author of the report.

Confiscation of civilian assets aims to stop terrorists and major drug traffickers by disrupting their operations. In practice, the livelihoods of ordinary people and family business owners are collateral damage in the war on drugs and / or terrorism.

Iowa provides an important case study on how not to proceed with the forfeiture of civilian assets. More than once, police operating in Iowa have drawn national attention (and ridiculed) for their brutal tactics.

In 2013, federal tax agents came to the home of an Arnolds Park restaurant owner to say they had seized his bank account containing more than $ 30,000, the Des Moines Register reported. The woman’s staggered deposits from her all-cash company caught the attention of investigators, but she was never formally charged with a felony.

The Northwestern Iowa restaurateur got her money back a year later with pro bono representation from the Institute for Justice. But others who can’t afford lawyers and don’t get the attention of a nonprofit law firm have little recourse.

Responding to public pressure, the 2018 Iowa legislature passed limited restrictions on the process. Reform supporters, including the Koch network on the right and the ACLU on the left, want to go further by abolishing civil forfeiture of assets and diverting criminal confiscation funds from individual departments.

Big criminals carrying suitcases of cash in stolen sports cars are rarely the targets. Average government transportation in Iowa is only around $ 900. Coincidentally, that’s just below the average amount Americans are expected to spend on Christmas this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation.

So, in one night of work, the government can steal Christmas from a family. Happy Holidays.

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The Grinch and Cindy Lou at Mt. Pleasant. (Ashley Duong / The Union)

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